Cluster B Personality Disorders and Divorce

by | Sep 27, 2023 | Divorce

Maintaining a healthy relationship with someone who has a distorted view of themselves, unrealistic expectations of others, and no regard for anyone else’s feelings is nearly impossible. If you are exhausted by trying to cater to your spouse’s erratic behavior, inconsistent moods, and tendency to blame everything on you, you may be married to someone suffering from a Cluster B personality disorder—and divorcing them is likely to be a contentious battle. To successfully dissolve your marriage, you need to understand what you are up against, as well as enlist the aid of experienced legal counsel to protect your interests. This article discusses key points on understanding Cluster B personality disorders and what to expect in a divorce.



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What Are Cluster B Personality Disorders?


Personality disorders are mental health conditions that affect the way a person thinks, behaves, and relates to others, and is more generally characterized by unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior. Those affected by Cluster B disorders may demonstrate dramatic, intensely emotional, and unpredictable responses, and they typically have trouble maintaining stable, healthy relationships. The four main types of Cluster B personality disorders are:


  • Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD): Has an inflated sense of their own importance that masks for a fragile self-esteem. Expects special treatment, takes advantage of others, and lacks empathy. Extremely sensitive to rejection or criticism.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Has an unstable or weak sense of self, with a deep fear of being abandoned or alone. Often has mood swings that go from positive to negative without an obvious cause and displays impulsive behaviors.  
  • Antisocial personality disorder: Has little or no concern for others’ feelings or needs. Disregards social or legal rules to get what they want. Frequently lies, behaves impulsively or aggressively, and shows little remorse for the affect their behavior has on others.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: Has a constant need for attention and behaves dramatically and/or inappropriately to get it. Very suggestible and easily led by others. Their emotions are shallow and shift rapidly, and they are fixated on physical appearance.


It is possible for individuals to exhibit symptoms of a Cluster B disorder without having been formally diagnosed. Unfortunately, the traits of these disorders that can sabotage a marital relationship also make it extremely likely that seeking a divorce will provoke manipulative, vindictive, or abusive behavior. Understanding the correlation between Cluster B personality disorders and high-conflict divorce can help you prepare for, and defend yourself against, the tactics that may be used against you as you seek to end the marriage.


Divorcing Someone Who Has a Personality Disorder


While it is true that people with Cluster B personality disorders tend to react unpredictably in general, their behavior in the face of divorce can be anticipated. They place full blame on the spouse and will seek to punish or control them, often by using the legal process against them. Those with personality disorders can often come off as completely normal, even charming, and they are adept at manipulating situations to make it appear as if their spouse is the one being uncooperative or unreasonable. If they have engaged in domestic violence in the past, the risk of such violence rises when their spouse tries to leave; it is essential for those in this situation to have an exit strategy that includes a safe place to go to protect themselves from abuse.


If you are divorcing someone who you suspect or know has a personality disorder, you should also be sure to engage a divorce attorney who is knowledgeable in high-conflict divorces and understands the impact mental illness can have. Having accurate legal advice will help you stay calm in the face of threats—for example, your spouse may claim to be able to take the kids away from you or ruin you financially, whether that is possible or not.


Your lawyer can also help you prepare to counter false statements your ex may make in court, advise you on how to manage your interactions to avoid being cast as the problematic party, and assertively advocate for your rights. Attempting to resolve the situation by making unilateral concessions or giving in to unreasonable demands in the hope that someone with a personality disorder will be satisfied and give up, does not work. This just encourages them to keep seeking more. You will need to establish firm boundaries and be willing to stick to them to achieve a long-term resolution.


Cluster B Personality Disorders and Child Custody


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Child custody arrangements are meant to be determined by what is in the best interests of the child, taking into account their health, safety, welfare, and their relationship with each of their parents. In California, courts start from the presumption that a joint custody arrangement, in which parents share legal and physical custody of their children, is the best option. However, if you suspect your spouse who has a personality disorder is not capable of effectively caring for the children, or may subject them to emotional or physical abuse, it is possible to fight for a greater share of custody or sole custody in the right circumstances.


Simply having a mental illness and/or a personality disorder does not disqualify someone from having custody, and a judge will certainly not take one spouse’s word that mental illness is present in the absence of a formal diagnosis. Instead, you will need to provide factual evidence to the court and any custody evaluators that document concrete reasons why your spouse should not be trusted with the children. Be prepared to counter allegations that you are an unfit parent, with evidence to disprove false statements, because your spouse may try to go after full custody to punish you for leaving.


In most cases, you will end up sharing custody, to some degree, with your ex-spouse. Co-parenting with someone with a Cluster B personality disorder can be very difficult, as they will push the boundaries as far as they are permitted to create conflict and retaliate against you. You must strictly follow court-ordered arrangements, and document not only your communications with your ex-spouse but also any deviations on their part from the agreed-upon or court ordered parenting plan.


Rules around your interactions should be focused on minimizing the potential for conflict while keeping firm boundaries in place. This does not mean giving in when disagreements arise just to keep the peace—it is not in your children’s best interests or yours to allow yourself to be manipulated. Your attorney can help you determine when it may be necessary to check bullying or willful lack of adherence on your ex-spouse’s part by returning to court.


Protecting Your Interests in High-Conflict Divorce


When one spouse has a personality disorder, divorce can become a painful, prolonged experience of having them exploit the legal system to emotionally torture you for leaving. The experienced family law attorneys at Hoover Krepelka can effectively protect you and advocate for your legal rights when you are faced with a high-conflict divorce. Your peace of mind matters to us. Contact Us today by filling out the form below.


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*The above is not meant to be legal advice, and every case is different. Feel free to reach out to us at Hoover Krepelka, LLP, if you have any questions. Information contained in this content and website should not be relied on as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice on your specific situation. 

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