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Divorce and personality disorders: What you need to know

Personality disorders in America are more common than you may expect. According to several studies, up to 20% of people suffer from a serious personality disorder. If you are going through a divorce with a spouse who has a personality disorder, the proceeding can often be more challenging and high-conflict. There are, however, steps you and your attorney can take to help facilitate the process.

Types of personality disorders

People suffering from personality disorders experience chronic internal distress that often causes them to engage in actions that hurt themselves or others. According to the DSM-5 there are three general clusters of personality disorders: eccentric, dramatic and erratic, and anxious and fearful. Those with personality disorders resulting in dramatic, erratic and highly emotional behavior may be particularly challenging to work with in the family law context. Examples of these types of disorders include:

  • Narcissitic personality disorder: individuals often believe they are superior to others and are preoccupied with themselves
  • Borderline personality disorder: individuals are often impulsive, experience mood swings and engage in unstable relationships
  • Histrionic personality disorder: individuals often demand attention and may be overly dramatic
  • Antisocial personality disorder: individuals often disregard the needs and rights of others and go against social norms

Managing parties with personality disorders

Of course, therapy is often recommended for those suffering from personality disorders. It is also helpful if the attorney representing the spouse with the personality disorder encourages them to look at situations from other perspectives when their view of the circumstances seems distorted.

Other approaches depend on the type of disorder. It may be useful when dealing with narcissists to frame issues in a way that highlights benefits to them. For borderline or histrionic personality disorders, it may be beneficial to focus on facts as a way of preventing drama and impulsiveness. Finally, for antisocial personality disorders, using more written communication may help limit manipulation.

If you are in the process of divorcing a spouse with a personality disorder, it is wise to limit personal contact, and keep any communication in written format. Counseling may also be useful for better understanding the personality disorder your spouse suffers from.

Finally, working with an experienced family law attorney can be particularly beneficial when dealing with a divorce involving a party suffering from a personality disorder. Attorneys can assist in facilitating communication and in keeping the proceeding moving forward.

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