In a previous post, we examined how mental health issues lead to “high conflict” divorces and custody battles. In this article, our Charleston divorce lawyers explain, examine, and identify specific types of personality disorders.
Personality Disorders = High Conflict Divorces
Ask anyone who has been married to someone suffering from a personality disorder, and they will tell you that their marriage is marked by periods of high conflict. When you add the additional struggles that come from a divorce, then you have a recipe for EXPLOSIVE conflict between spouses and significant damage to children caught in the middle.
Chances are likely that in many high conflict cases, especially those involving custody, there is at least one party suffering from a personality disorder or other mental illness. Initially, the person suffering from mental health issues may appear and act “normal.” However, over time, their difficulty or inability to function during a crisis (e.g. divorce) will surface.
It is crucial that attorneys and judges are able to identify and how to deal with parties who suffer from these disorders. Otherwise, if the lawyers and the court do not recognize the personality disorder or mental illness, then they may inadvertently contribute to the conflict.
Cognitive Distortions & False Statements
People with personality disorders view their world as a much more threatening place than most people do. Their world view is generally adversarial‚ so they often see all people as either allies or enemies. Their thinking is often dominated by cognitive distortions‚ such as: all or nothing thinking‚ emotional reasoning‚ personalization of benign events‚ minimization of the positive and maximization of the negative, and black and white thinking. They may form very inaccurate beliefs about the other person‚ but cling rigidly to those beliefs when they are challenged because being challenged is usually perceived as a threat.
People with personality disorders also are more likely to make false statements. In a divorce‚ the person experiences rejection or confrontation much more deeply than most people. They have great difficulty healing and may remain stuck in the denial stage‚ the depression stage‚ or the anger stage of grief. As a result, they avoid acceptance of the divorce by trying to change or control the other person through lies used to keep the other person in the relationship or to punish the other person.
The Family Court is Their Stage
For a person suffering from a personality disorder, family court becomes their stage. They focus intensely on their spouse’s behavior while avoiding any scrutiny of their own behavior. More often than not, these persons are enthusiastic about their claims, and their enthusiasm may be mistaken for sincerity. Their goals are to assign blame and to control or punish the other spouse. They see the family court judge as an all-powerful figure who will help them accomplish these goals. They are also more likely to justify making false statements and accusations to achieve their goals. If the family court is not cautious about the claims made by a mentally ill spouse, then the court may unwittingly punish the parties’ children and the “innocent” parent by, for example, ordering supervised visitation or imposing financial sanctions.
The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call a Thing by It’s Proper Name
Of course, family court judges and lawyers should not engage in “arm chair” diagnoses of the parties to a divorce. However, they should educate themselves enough about various mental illness traits to recognize whether mental illness is fueling the parties’ litigation, whether a party’s claims against the other party should be viewed with skepticism, and whether a spouse or a parent may need professional diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.
Personality disorders are mental health conditions that impact how people handle their feelings and how they relate to others. Personality disorders are present in approximately 10 to 15% of the adult population. Some disorders, such as acute distress disorder, have a short duration ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Some disorders are not constant but are recurring such as major depression. Lastly, some disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, last a lifetime even with treatment.
Personality disorders are defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) as “enduring pattern