Divorcing Crazy

Is it fair to say “crazy”? Most certainly some mental health experts will take issue with the casual use of the term, but let’s face it, many people know the dark truth of what it is like to be married to “crazy.” I feel perfectly comfortable describing behavior that just happens to match, word for word, certain personality disorders as “crazy.” I offer this not as a clinician, but as an expert in the human experience of divorce. Crazy is real and I guarantee you that at times you will feel as if you are the one who is crazy. Now, how to divorce them? It is difficult and expensive but not impossible. There are simply some serious things to understand and consider.

The good news is that once you understand, truly understand, that certain pathologies prevent people from behaving in ways that make sense, are rational, or remotely empathetic, it can help you take it less personally, see it as a personality disorder and realize that it has absolutely nothing to do with you. Think of this as your own private “aha” moment.

The bad news is that by definition, a settlement is reached through compromise. “Crazy” and compromise tend to cancel each other out. And more bad news is that if you cannot reach a settlement you are faced with litigation. That process alone is extremely expensive, protracted, increases adversity (as if that is possible), and there are never any guarantees that the result will be anything that you consider reasonable. And, to make matters worse, even if you were to receive a judgment that is tolerable, your spouse (the one with the personality disorder) will likely refuse to accept it and will find ways to continue to litigate the matter guaranteeing that you remain in the vortex of, well, I call it “crazy.” They also tend to hire and fire a series of lawyers to further their agenda. While it can be upsetting to see the lawyers willingly perpetuate the narrative and personal attacks, we have a system of hired experts who are paid to represent their client, so it is another aspect of divorce to understand and accept and not take personally, as difficult as that is.

Now, there are many shades of crazy and many ways of achieving a settlement, so this is not meant to dissuade anyone from getting out of a bad situation or giving up, but it is meant to provide transparency, and in my opinion, some desperately needed candor. It is intended to let you know that you are not as alone as you probably feel. It is meant to provide more education and clarity around your options. For example, while mediation is the best venue in the right circumstances, it is almost impossible with a spouse who isn’t interested in 50%, but in 100%. Adjusting your expectations about what you might have to give or what you might be willing to accept is often the price one pays for this type of relationship, but typically that cost pales in comparison to the legal expense and emotional suffering that results from efforts to seek a fair settlement.

Negotiating a custody arrangement, or if you are lucky, a parenting plan, in this situation is no laughing matter. Nothing is more paralyzing to a spouse than the fear of their children in a household he/she believes to be emotionally unsafe. Since every family situation is unique, it is difficult to be specific, but nothing can accurately express the depths of despair at not being able to protect one’s children, no matter their age. It is essential to present all of your concerns to your professional in a factual, organized manner with documentation to detail it. Personally attacking your spouse and his/her behavior, as disgraceful as it might be, can inadvertently put you in the same category. Remember, family law professionals have heard and seen a lot. So while you might be disappointed when they don’t jump up and say how terrible this is and that they will fix it immediately, give them time to absorb the facts and assess the situation so they can educate you about the various options that might be available to you in your county.

So, if this description reflects your situation, what exactly do you do? Given the spectrum of crazy and unique family situations, it is impossible to detail a roadmap forward. However, it is important to dramatically adjust expectations of the outcome because the pursuit of “fair” will bankrupt you. Crazy tends to prefer winning, at all costs, so avoiding the escalation of conflict is essential. Crazy also tends to feed off of the conflict, so if at all possible try to disengage from excessive communication as much as possible. And lastly, if at all possible avoid a litigated custody action. While a parenting plan does require compromise, and initially you might have to give a lot more than you feel is acceptable, it can be modified as the conflict lessens and any kind of custody action can be a slippery slope. Custody implies ownership and crazy prefers to own. Crazy doesn’t like to be challenged and will have a great deal of difficulty accepting anything that remotely suggests that you share the right to parent. This guidance is to help anyone who recognizes this type of situation and realize that you are not alone and that there are decisions you can make to succeed and most importantly move forward.


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