Divorcing a Sociopath
Whether your husband has been formally diagnosed or not, if he’s suffering from some sociopathic tendencies, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. Divorce is always difficult, for any number of reasons, but divorcing a sociopath is even more difficult.
But you already know that, right? After all, there’s a reason why your marriage is headed towards divorce, and it’s probably not because he’s such a delight to live with. Although I’m not a therapist and can’t diagnose anybody, I have seen a number of divorces where there was something seriously wrong with the husband—and only the label of “sociopath” fit.
What’s a sociopath? What are the signs and how do you recognize it?
Though your husband would have to go to a therapist to get formally diagnosed (and the chances of that are probably pretty slim), there are some warning signs that can clue you in that you’re dealing with a sociopath.
A sociopath is someone with a personality disorder; it’s also known as “antisocial personality” disorder. People with antisocial personalities are manipulative, self serving, controlling, and generally display a lack of interest in the feelings of others.
People with personality disorders often exhibit self serving behavior. Everything that they do, particularly in a divorce, is designed to meet a specific goal. If he offers, for example, to make your car payment or mortgage payment every month, it’s likely in an effort to control where you go, who you see, and what your day to day life looks like. In a word, it’s all about control. We see this with narcissistic husbands, too, with some small differences. There’s no question that divorcing a sociopath (or a narcissist) is a difficult proposition.
If your husband is a true sociopath, chances are that he’ll do everything he can to try to make you as miserable as possible in the divorce process. Though it’s true that many people facing a divorce aren’t at their happiest, a sociopathic husband can make things a million times worse. Most divorcing people don’t hold each other in the highest esteem anyway, but a divorcing a sociopath is more difficult still. Chances are, throughout the divorce process, a sociopathic husband will do everything in his power to make you as uncomfortable as possible—thinking that if you’re miserable, scared, or intimidated, you’re more likely to agree to a settlement that gives you less and him more.
That’s not to say, though, that you should just sit back and take it. Quite the contrary! In fact, I have two reasons for writing this article today. First, and foremost, to let you know what to expect. I know it sounds bad, but, at the same time, if you know what to expect, you can begin to prepare. Second, to begin to help you plan how you’ll deal with his antics.
We’ve already talked a little bit about what to expect. And, probably, to some extent, you already know. He has tried to make everything miserable all along. And, also probably, you’ve tried to people please him, only to find that it makes everything worse. The more weakness he sees in you, the more he goes in for the kill. The more your self esteem suffers, the more he seems to thrive. It’s unfortunate that he operates this way, but it’s also a fact of life at this point. It’s not so much his behavior, but how you plan to respond to it.
If your goal is divorcing a sociopath, you’ll want to follow these 3 steps to make the process as seamless as possible.
1. Work with an attorney.
Though, technically, in Virginia you can handle your own divorce or custody case (or divorce and custody case), it’s not really recommended when you’re divorcing a sociopath.
You already know he can wear you down. He can threaten and cajole and manipulate you, and it’s a lot to deal with on your own. Your attorney won’t feel that way. Your attorney will be able to stand up for you even if you’re not able to stand up for yourself. Enlisting the support of an attorney with experience handling sociopathic husbands can be incredibly helpful; in fact, for most women, it’s a game changer.
Don’t go through it alone.
2. Don’t negotiate with him.
It’s just not worth it. I don’t know you, and I don’t know him, so I can’t tell you exactly how this might go down—but it makes me nervous. In my experience, sociopathic husbands are pretty inclined to tell their wives all sorts of stories. He’ll say you’re not entitled to something or that he’s not going to give you anything. He’ll threaten to take custody if you don’t give up your right to something else. He’ll do, in short, anything he can to make you feel like he’s going to take control of the entire divorce if you don’t give in to his ridiculous demands.
Let your attorney negotiate with him (or his attorney, if he’s represented by counsel). Chances are, if you give in to his demands, you’ll find yourself in a terrible legal position later on. We’ve seen, lots of times, husbands who tell their wives that they’ll go after custody if they don’t give up their right to receive a portion of the retirement. The problem with that is that anything relating to the children is modifiable based on a material change in circumstances; waiving retirement is not modifiable, no matter the circumstances. So, as you can probably already see, he’d threaten that, knowing that once you waive the retirement there’s nothing you can do to stop him from going back after custody later. (And chances are he probably would, because that’s another opportunity to control you post divorce.)
Threats are pretty common when you’re divorcing a sociopath. They’ll use any means they have to control you, and it can be pretty intimidating. They’ll say, “I’ll quit my job so you never get any child support!” Remember that it’s all a ploy designed to encourage you to reach a lesser agreement than you’re entitled to receive.
Tell him, “I’ll mention that to my attorney,” and move on. Don’t give in to his demands. Consult with your attorney before you agree to anything.
3. Be prepared.
We’ve seen sociopathic husbands pull all sorts of stunts during their divorces. They’ll do something crazy, like buying a new boat, in the hopes that the additional debt will reduce their support obligation. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.) They’ll also do really nasty things, like talking to your family and telling them “his” side of the divorce, or trying to get the children on his side.
There’s really no limits to the depths to which a sociopath will sink, and it’s important that you’re prepared. If you need to enlist the support of a therapist, do so. If you think your children will need a little extra support, consider getting them in therapy, too.
Above all, don’t sink to his level. To the fullest extent possible, don’t engage with him at all. Respond to texts and email messages with the information necessary to take care of the children and make sure that the bills are paid, but don’t engage in knock down, drag out fights. There’s no point.
Divorcing a sociopath isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, either. In our office, we’ve dealt with hundreds (if not thousands!) of men like your husband. We can handle it. You’re not the first woman who has been through something like this, and you’ll survive.
The good news? As opportunities to control you lessen, he will likely fade out of your life—maybe entirely. He’ll find someone else to control and manipulate once he realizes he can’t control and manipulate you anymore, and you’ll get the opportunity for a fresh new start that you’ve been envisioning.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys about divorcing a sociopath, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.