Parenting Plans & Narcissism, Borderline, Personality Disordered or general “High Conflict”

When I was working through the initial stages of divorce and needed to do a parenting plan with my ex, I had a hard time finding what elements should even be included in the plan itself.  Later, I was advised by a domestic violence expert, that when dealing with a person like my ex – aggressive, boundaryless, abusive, controlling, manipulative, entitled, who sees the children as pawns and pieces of property – that the plan should be as detailed as possible.   In a situation with two emotionally & mentally healthy adults who are working together to do what is best for the children, the plan doesn’t need the detail because the adults can work together as normal people do.  That said, let me lay out the different pieces of a plan and some things to think about.  Note, though, that I plan to update this as other things come to mind or my awareness.  I’m also aware that there are sooo many factors at play during divorce that may or not make it even feasible to have a choice or opportunity to make decisions about the elements below.  Sometimes, there’s not even the opportunity to have a discussion about putting the detail in place (which is for the sake of the children involved).  Legal custody

Legal custody aspects involve decisions regarding: religion, education, emergency and non-emergency medical care,

Narcissist considerations:  Having legal or joint legal custody may feel necessary to a personality disordered parent for a variety of reasons:  to preserve their image, to satisfy borderline needs and avoid rejection or being alone, or as an avenue for power and control over the other parent.

Residential custody

This definition may vary by state and local, but essentially points to the parent whom the child/childen resides with the most.

Narcissist  considerations:  Residential custody concerns for the narcissist may strike the same cords as legal custody.  It is also, as well as visitation, a way to take the kids from the other parent for retribution.  It may also trigger the feeling or need to be “fair” and “50/50”, as narcissistic personality traits are often approaching life in a “you vs. me” mentality and are cut-throat competitive in that regard.  If there are ways in which you can negotiate away other divorce items (like the house, car, child support or other property), in order to gain legal, residential or the children to be with you the majority of the time – do so as fast as humanly possible!


Be as concrete and definitive as possible in the parenting plan when dealing with a personality disordered ex.  A narcissist has logic that can turn at whim to fit their needs, and will incessantly look to change the schedule to whatever fits him/her.  Whatever you can do to have the schedule be so that a police officer or other legal person can interpret from the custody order alone where the child/children should be at any given time… the better.  This is essential to your sanity as well as a legal defense when your ex accuses you of having the children when they think you shouldn’t, or when they have the children and they shouldn’t.

Things to consider: Holidays, Monday holidays (like Columbus Day), teacher work days, summer vacation, what date the summer vacation should be worked out by, who picks their dates for summer first (perhaps alternate), providing all travel & itinerary information, if the holiday or vacation schedule overrides the regular schedule, and how does that work.

  • Cancellations / Emergencies:

There is a statement in my court order which states “baring an emergency, each party shall give the other forty-eight (48) hours advance notice of cancellation or change in the ability of a party to have the children during their custodial time.”  I know other parents have similar phrases either about exercising or cancelling visitation time.  Chance are, you won’t get the notice as outlined, but it is good to have it outlined anyway.

  • Make up time for cancellations:

If the non-custodial parent cancels visitation time – is it necessary to make up for that missed time?  Personally, I am thankful that there is no provision for make up time for my children’s father missing visitation time.  Nonetheless, I still have to consider what the court’s reaction will be as my ex will be very blaming and get everyone feeling sorry for him if I don’t make sure he makes up any missed time.  However, it does still afford me the ability to tell my ex “no” for makeup time.

  • Exchange Location & who’s responsible for driving them there

Considerations:   Specifically note where the children will be exchanged and who is responsible for driving them there.  Should you include provisions for whether one parent moves further away? There may be some state requirements regarding advance notification if a parent is going to move.

I think it is also important to write into the agreement a required notice of where the children will be spending the night, (72 hours advance) if different than the residence of the parent.  It is a slight inconvenience for you when you want to take the kids somewhere else, but it is peace of mind when your ex does and you’ll know where they are.

  • Right of First Refusal & Babysitters

The basic premise is that if a parent has the child in their care and has to place the child in another person’s care for a specified amount of time (perhaps other than daycare), than the other parent has the “right of first refusal”.  Meaning – they are offered / allowed to care for the child/children if they would like, and if they can’t, only then is alternate care used.  There are pros/cons about this.   If it is used – there should be very specific aspects outlined around the circumstances when this is enacted (e.g. number of hours alternate care is needed, whether camp, daycare, a playdate or a sleepover with a friend is considered “alternate care”, how long the other person has to respond, the amount of notice given, etc).

Other things to consider:  If your ex is putting them into another person’s care whom you deem unsafe or inappropriate, you have a means to keep that from happening.  It’s another potential avenue for harassment from your ex (for e.g., your child wants to sleepover at a friend’s house who’s parents you trust – but your ex says that they should be allowed “right of first refusal”.  The point is that the child wants to do a sleepover, not that you’re actually looking for alternate care).

Another aspect to consider is babysitting.  Do you have any specifics which should be outlined in regards to the use of babysitters?  Appropriate age of the babysitter? Length of time that the babysitter can care for them?  Overnights?  Should the babysitter have safety classes or CPR classes?


There may not be the ability to write this much detail into the plan, but here are things to consider.  Also, the courts themselves often times see this as “different parenting styles” and a parent who wants to define this as “controlling” (when in fact it may be that they are trying to do so for protection).  In a normal healthy divorce, it is good to work together to be consistent with how these things are done with the kids.

  • Are safety classes or parenting classes necessary?
  • Is the child/children small enough to require safety proofing in the home?
  • What requirements or written restrictions would you like to see on discipline (corporal punishment?)
  • What rules need to be the same between homes? (television, curfews, reactions to school misbehavior, homework)
  • When is it okay to leave the child/ren alone, for how long?
  • Should a child have a cell phone (at what age, who pays for it, who are they allowed to contact, etc).

Child’s well being

Things to consider: How much contact should the child/children have with the parent that they are not with at the time, who cares for the child when sick, if the child is sick and should be exchanged for visitation or custody – are there times when they should stay where they are?,

Also consider how quickly you need the other parent to respond when they are caring for the children and when they aen’t. (narcissists are infamous for not answering phone calls as a means to control),

Parental well being

In this category, I am thinking about including items into the court order, parenting plan or parenting agreement which specifically addresses harassment or harassing behaviors between the parents, stalking by either parent, showing up unannounced at either residence, amount of contact between parents, etc.  If a parent has a protective order but the children still have visitation, then how to handle a whole host of things will need to be considered.

Child support

Each state has specific criteria and guidelines for child support.  In some places, there is a lot which can be considered.  In others, it’s basically a calculation without much room for negotiation.  Costs beyond what’s included in child support which should be considered include: medical expenses, Therapy/emotional expenses, child care while working or going to school (if this isn’t included into a basic child support calculation), college.

Moving /moving out of state    

If you are going to move or your ex is, what do you want to have in place?  Many states may have certain requirements already outlined.  Considerations will include: providing notice of a move, how it impacts the visitations/parenting schedule and who compensates if it changes the commute for exchanges.

Parent coordination, mediators, communication:

If you have a parent coordinator – consider:  how often do you meet, is it in person or on the phone, what is the rate, how is the cost shared, how are emergency situations handled



20 Responses to “Parenting Plans & Narcissism, Borderline, Personality Disordered or general “High Conflict””

  1. Rachel says:

    I have sole legal decision-making and this was established 6 months ago. My narcissist ex has already tried changing it twice. He never responded to the paperwork, etc therefore I got the default hearing and got what was said. He got a job working weekend’s as well, he has our son every other weekend and wants me to change the schedule to accomadating him. He keeps threatening courts he will take me, non stop harassing since I am not getting back with him. I have told him multiple times no we have a parenting plan established before you went and got this job so it’s staying the way it is. Is this ok to say

  2. mary says:

    Does anyone have advice about ways to shut down (catch phrases maybe?) the endless debate and harassment that occurs over routine coparenting issues? For example, a minor change in schedule results in literally a dozen emails or texts. Thanks.

  3. Allison says:

    Who wrote this? PLEASE I need to talk to whomever briliant, patient, methodical mother put this on paper. Please contact ne.

  4. K Nelson says:

    Anyone have any ideas about what to write in for events that happen on “his” time… Even if I offer to pay for events she wants to go to, or if she is especially looking forward to a birthday party for a friend and I offer to make up the time for him… he says no.

    She is about to join a theater troupe that will sometimes have practices on his nights… if he just doesn’t let her go, she will be devastated. I’m sure this will happen more as she gets older… how do I write in that she has the option to change the time with him? Is that a possibility?

    • Hi K,

      My first reaction is that there are a few things that happen when the kids cannot attend events because they are on the N parent’s “time”.. one is that they begin to see how the relationship is different with that parent. Over time of having this happen more often, they will invariably begin to resent the parent for prohibiting them from living their life they way that they want (and how other kids are allowed to do). Your role then becomes a one that is there for them to understand their frustration and support them to speak up to their dad about wanting to attend the activity. In the end, they have to manage their relationship with that parent on their own.

      That said, I find that sometimes I direct the solution (if it seems like a situation which should be resolved between the parents), and other times I have my kids deal with it (if it is easy enough for them to assert themselves and stand up for themselves).

      The one question that I do have is in regards to your statement about making up time for him because they want to attend an event or practice during “his” time. Why do you feel like you need to do that? Are you granted makeup time for every evening which you support your child as they practice to learn a new sport, or sit with a tutor to get help in a particular topic? No, right? So why is the other side entitled to it? It my opinion, this is part of parenting… supporting our children as they grow up.

      Just a few thoughts – in terms of the parenting plan, it is my opinion that the parent should not deny the child a normal experience of “growing up” and should not deny the child reasonable requests to attend events that are a natural part of growing up.

      Maybe it should be called a “child plan” and not a parenting plan…

  5. Kathleen says:

    This was a good site for me. From 2009-2011 I spent 50K fighting for allocation of parental rights against my EXN and his WifeN- yes there is two of them. At the end I was granted majority parenting time while his was scheduled on his days off work(oilfield hand) and he has not Utilized ONE of those visits! Three years later he is refusing to cooperate and modify our current plan so we can move. And I’m stuck until I can either negotiate with him or have our hearing. I really don’t want to spend thousands of dollars again…. But I can’t possibly put a price on my beautiful 13yr old. All we want is a fresh start… Heart breaks

  6. Ruby says:

    From my own experience I just wanted to reiterate the golden opportunity of leveraging assets, for time with your children with a NPD ex, in the early stages. My solicitor originally told me I would likely get about 60% or more of assets, and then asked what my priority was. When I answered the best interests of the children, he told me straight out that 30 years of experience had shown again and again that a greedy man will choose money over time with the children. So two days before our mediation I told him verbally. If I walk out of the mediation with the exisiting number of nights of the children in my care, I will sign documents to mean that I take less than half of our combined assets. Prior to this he wanted 50 / 50 care. As a result, I have less money but am able to better nurture and protect our children. Our children spend enough nihgts with thier dad so as to maintain a relationship (far more time face to face parenting than he ever did while we were all in one house). As for him, well he works full time and earns very good money, and he has a better bank balance than me, he can still take the children places to perpetuate the worlds best father image, and get sympathy because he misses them so. He “misses” our children so much that he has forgotten to pick up our 5 year old from school, twice.

    I would also, in hindsight, have used the mediation session to turn his NPD againt him and needily ask him to pay half medical specialist costs. I have always paid docs fees without thinking but am currently paying a lot in weekly speech therapy and he wont contribute. I doubt he would say that out loud in front of a mediator.

    I think no matter how detailed the parenting plan, you will always have issues with an NPD ex. It is amazing how far their sense of entitlement will take them! I recently paid for and organised a birthdy party for my son (and his school friends), Ex asked that my family dont come, I placated and asked my mum not to come. His extended family came along (we used to be very close, now they ignore me, but it wasnt my party, it was my sons and they are his extended family, so I invited them and was polite). I did all the organiseng and it cost me nearly $400. Ex arrived at the park after it was all set up, was loud and gregarious at the event (soaking up his moment of glory) and left with the other guests at the end. My friend and I cleaned up. Two weeks later he made a snide remark about me having a “rebel celebration” with my mum as the next night my son and his grandma (and cousins) had fish and chips and ice cream cones for tea and she gave him his present ( as she hadnt come to his party).. I was flabaghasted. You cant please them and any situation will always come back to their ego.
    Rave Rave Rave.

    • I love that he forgot to pick up your five year old… feel bad for the little one who felt forgotten, but what a great example of “watch what I do, not what I say”! As for the parties – been there, done that. That “shine in the glory, aren’t I a great dad” part drives me nuts… I just want a picture of my son or daughter blowing out their candles, and every year photoshop & I have to take him out of that photograph because he’s always poking his head in to smile and get that faux shot! 🙂

    • Heather says:

      Sooooooo very true. As long as they think/it looks like they are being father of the year, the assets are what it’s really about (at least for my NPD ex).

    • Jules says:

      All I can say is thank you for taking the time to post this. Even though you wrote it three years ago, the way I identify with what you describe is crazy … And validating. I always thought it was cool when I was pregnant and would feel a certain way, then get a baby center email about that very topic. Now, in a much more unpleasant way, I find more and more everyday, explaining EXACTLY what I am facing with my ex. Who incidentally locked me out of our home (that he owned but I moved in while engaged and had a baby). He kept everything. Jewelry, baby and pregnancy photos (ALL of them, as they were on his computer). He took my car after selling the one I owned and putting my new one in his name while I paid. The blows he has dealt have all but killed the mother of his child. Yet he has now dragged me into a custody battle for sole parental rights or minimum “50/50” that has cost more than a college education. All the while I am facing court having no idea what he can possibly say I have done!! I have risen above blow after blow after blow, just worrying about our son. Meanwhile, JUST as this article said, I cannot even get a hold of him when he has our child!!! I will try and try and just want to FaceTime so this poor toddler can see his mommy (he flips out when I have to drop him off…at the police dept mind you!) and will get no response until hours before my sone is suppose to return to me.

  7. JenelleMarie says:

    Good ones to cover. I’m headed to meet with an attorney this week to hopefully redo our stipulation it is far too gray (the original one we had was black and white but the family law facilitator didn’t like it) and ExN has far too much wiggle room. Especially in regards to contact and dozens of emails about a simple topic and him harassing me. He also has been doing inappropriate things like cosleeping with our oldest DD (9 in 2 weeks) and watching the girls shower. I’m a nervous wreck as thus far i’ve represented myself and done fairly well. But it’s time to firm up the stipulation and get some parenting classes involved for him since he is breaking our stip and stopped attending court mandated therapy. Sigh, N’s making their own rules is the single most frustrating part of ‘co-parenting’ with a Narc i think.

  8. Heather says:

    I got this removed (rights of first refusal). BTW I even think the WORDING of this had to be from a NARC. “First rights of refusal” has some strange sexual overtone from the days of “first rights,” which is a pretty sick passage in history.

    The ex had insisted on putting first rights of refusal in there and then of course refused to follow it while all the time insisting I follow it so I could essentially have no time of leaving the kids with my friends, whereas he was always dropping the kids off on his family. So I ended up pulling in the day care records and showing that he had essentially not followed it for a month, as his sister was dropping off our girls at day care. Secondarily, he was refusing to follow it when he had classes he was teaching as well and I presented evidence to the court clinic regarding this issue. At that point, the parenting mediator agreed with me and removed it. I had to be pretty bitchy at that point. Luckily for me, his sister was overly involved. She had written a 10+ page letter to multiple clinicians involved in the case and …THANK YOU GOD…yelled at my attorney in front of the clinician. My attorney is quite accomplished and respected where I live and doing this pretty much sunk my ex-husband’s attempts to portray his family as better for the girls than myself. I still get giddy thinking about how his sister totally sunk him while all the time thinking she was doing him some big favor.

    Overall though, I have to say with regard to parenting plans, I tend to go with the less is more approach. My parenting plan (done in family court) is 2 pages long. As has been noted, NPD types don’t follow the rules anyway, so just put in the most important stuff. I think divorce is essentially an excercise in letting go of most stuff and learning to really pick your battles. I have the following outlined strictly in the plan:

    1) time sharing (we don’t have a holiday agreement, so we go with time sharing on the holidays as well).
    2) Who the kids can and should not be around. He left our girls in a car at his shop for 1/2 hour in the middle of the summer. Therefore, he is not allowed to take the girls there. We caught him doing this several months ago and I have friends now checking on the weekends he has them. I have let him be aware of this to keep him well behaved. When the girls are old enough to take care of themselves around sharp metal objects and strangers, that will be different. Also, my ex has a pathological failure to protect our children. He will fail to protect them (and … in our marriage…me) in order to preserve a lack of conflict he finds important. Therefore, they can’t be around his drug abusing friends and family.
    3)Other issues I found important included the church we take the girls to and the school.

    Most other issues are left vague. I’ve found, for example, that he can’t even get the girls to school on time many days. For that, I’m going to document and then take him back to court as needed. But right now I’m trying to work wiht the girls’ teachers to support him in starting to get the girls to school by the time school starts.

    I think I have an excellent friend who also divorced a narc and her ongoing recs are to take emotion out of it. Think of this as a chess game. Most of your energy really needs to go into building resiliency in the kids. The little bit that is reserved for the ex should go mostly towards soothing their fragile narc ego and then setting firm boundaries and avoiding communication. Do not add energy to the fire if you can possibly avoid it.

    They take a lot of energy. I am lucky in that my ex doesn’t currently have access to an attorney or I’m sure he would be using that to punish me. The good thing about NPD types is attorneys end up hating them.


    • Thanks, Heather. It’s interesting. Reading your’s and others comments on this makes it seem that although the narcissistic personality has so many traits that look perfectly identical from person to person – that managing each one is so indiviual and something of an art form. It seems that the ex-spouse, who really knows the NPD best, is the best judge on what will work and how they will respond. Plus, each situation is different in terms of how often they have the kids (I have mine on all school days) and how to get things resolved. I have to go to circuit court and have a “change of circumstance” to qualify to reopen the case. Circuit court judges in my area handle all sorts of cases, including murder, and family issues often seem to be handled as annoying biproducts to them. For me, I can’t easily readdress smaller matters (which seem big – like cursing small children). I have a tendency to ponder how to resolve the issue systemically for all – which makes this all very fascinating.

      • Heather says:

        Mine has really excellent social skills so he is pretty deadly at triangulating others into his belief system (including me at one point). But he’s dumber than a box of bricks and allows his less competent family members, such as his sister, to completely control his life. When I was married to him, this really triggered co-dependency issues (me standing up to the sister or father or mother b/c he had complained about them to me…only to be subsequently thrown under the bus by him). However, now it’s great. The sister has basically acted like a lawyer for him. Since she’s NPD too, she thinks she actually knows what she’s doing. However, she doesn’t. At all. It’s pretty comical to see a NPD/BPD who is truly incompetent once you take your emotions out of it.

        The other issue is that states vary so widely. Mine is a very “father’s rights” state even when the father is being a complete idiot. It’s a very poor state so things like getting kids to school on time doesn’t look like much to a judge who is hearing about a kid who hasn’t been fed in a week or something similar.

        I honestly think the cursing small children thing is best dealt with (sadly) with the kids themselves, which it sounds like you do really well. I don’t think we have a good system for protecting kids and I honestly would say it’s getting worse rather than better. I’ve yet to see anyone willing to step up and give consequences. The whole legal system is NPD. Really they need to read about dialectical behavioral therapy and utilize these techniques in high conflict divorces. My happiest moment would be if my ex lost one day of visitation for every day he was late dropping the kids off at school. I’m pretty sure that would fix the behavior as well.

        • Unfortunately, I have to laugh, as my daughter had 34 tardies last year, and I am solely responsible for getting my kids to school! Much of it was a pattern – they have trouble falling asleep after the evening where they have dinner with their dad and are returned at 8pm (especially evenings when they are told they are assholes). They also have trouble on the Sunday after his weekends – because he keeps them up to midnight to watch movies with him, and they have trouble getting readjusted. Trying to get them awake is like pulling teeth from a crocodile! So, subsequently, we were often late 🙁 They are trying soooo hard this year to arrive on time, and so far so good!!

          • Heather says:

            I know we have a hard time getting the kids up
            After they return from his house bc of the same thing. Apparently he has a hard time too. You just do your best.

  9. KariJo says:

    That right of first refusal can be a difficult one to word. In my situation the ex is telling attorneys/GAL/therapists that I am pawning son off on grandparents so I can do my own thing…in reality my son enjoys spending time with my dad because they share interests and vise vera, so he does spend alot of time with my parents. Ex was also bringing up the overnights with friends, that he should be able to keep son rather than him going to friends, the GAL revised ours to state if the other parent can not care for child for 2 consecutive nights to eliminate conflict. It has never been a problem of him leaving son with other people as he much prefers to just leave the kid all alone :-/
    I think a parenting plan could bee 5000 pages long and cover everything under the sun and still wouldn’t be worth the paper it is written on because Narcs make their own rules.

  10. Julie says:

    I have this clause and typical Narc he does not follow the rules. He prefers to leave the child with his girlfriend then co parent as agreed with me, even though I make it a point to ask him. It is understandble that occasionally you may have something for a few hours that a sitter would be used but to consistently take time away from a parent is unfair. Parents should have first right to raise their children not boy friends girl friends or whoever

  11. Grace says:

    I wanted to chime on on the right of first refusal. We have this set up in our decree, but I am going to be requesting that this be removed in an upcoming modification.

    The reason? He doesn’t give me ROFR, though I am always careful to ask him. I carefully document the nights the kids report they had a sitter and I wasn’t asked first, but it’s just a continued source of conflict for us.

    My decree says that even though I am married, the kids have to be offered to their father first. For example, a few weeks ago I had a business trip out of town for 2 days. My husband was here and is perfectly capable of caring for the kids (and is frankly a zillion times more stable than their father). But I had to offer them to their dad, and he took them. Then he hired a sitter to care for them several times during my trip.

    Why am I giving him ROFR when it isn’t reciprocated? and why set myself up for a situation where I need to hire an attorney (AGAIN) to pursue something that is clearly written in our decree (AGAIN).

    Just my two cents. I think the less reason for interaction with a narc, the better.

    • Good point – I don’t have the clause, but have used the ‘situation’ where I knew my kids would be watched by his girlfriend to say I would rather do it – and to document that he said he would rather have them with his girlfriend (who has long left the scene).

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