Nuclear wasteland - separation advice for narcissistic behavior, gaslighting and emotional abuse

About to separate from spouse. I had online relationship with another (never met in person). Spouse caught me.

  • Spouse has shown strong signs of narcissism, gaslighting, parental alienation – all forms of emotional abuse toward me and, more important, our children.
  • Spouse has used others, including kids, to harm me. Spouse has thrown out false allegations and later agreed they weren’t true.
  • Spouse has threatened to tell the court I’m a horrible parent and, later, told me I’m a great parent.
  • Spouse has instructed our child to steal from me while I slept.
  • Spouse has taken all our money (then given some back).
  • Spouse has had text conversations with child(ren) and had them delete messages.
  • Spouse has talked poorly (and lied about me) to children in front of me and behind my back.
  • Spouse has turned off my cell phone service (then turned it back on).
  • Spouse has come to my work and threatened to get me fired.
  • Spouse has threatened to call the police based on lies (that I threatened children and spouse).
  • Spouse has been drinking in front of me / kids and lied to me about it when confronted.
  • Spouse has harassed me via phone numerous times (calls dozens of times if I don’t answer).
  • Spouse has said there is nothing left to live for.
  • Spouse has history of (increasing) mental instability, including suicide.
  • Spouse has continued to bully, pressure, threaten me if I don’t do things as spouse would like.
  • After research, it appears spouse has exhibited traits that make this a high(er) risk situation for physical and even lethal harm to spouse, children, and/or myself.

What are my options here? I recognize I made a selfish mistake. But these behaviors have gone beyond any measure of reason. Should I leave house before a separation agreement? If I do, what legal jeopardy does that put me in? I’m afraid spouse will use it against me to try to keep kids/money. I’m nervous about everybody’s safety. I don’t want to go to court and spend tens of thousands of dollars (that, honestly, I don’t have)…but I also refuse to back down and continue being bullied. The children come first – what can I do to protect them and avoid this from becoming a nuclear wasteland of a divorce?

Need help!

While you can attempt to negotiate a separation agreement while still living in the marital residence, it’s most likely not going to be successful or worthwhile with a spouse that exhibits these types of behaviors. The better option would be to separate and then attempt to work out the separation details. And when there is a spouse exhibiting these types of behaviors, the details often need to be handled in court.

It is possible however to get your spouse to be the one to move out first by either sending a demand letter or filing in court for divorce from bed and board. If you can prove fault grounds, the court could order your spouse to leave the marital residence.

For more detailed information on divorce from bed and board, check out our article What is a Divorce from Bed and Board?

You can also file for a domestic violence protective order if there has been physical injury, attempted physical injury, or continued harassment that if granted, would order your spouse out of the marital residence.

For more detailed information on a domestic violence protective order, check out our article Domestic Violence and Staying Safe - The Details.

While you don’t need to be separated to file in court for child custody or child support, you do need to be separated to file for postseparation support, alimony, and equitable distribution (property division).


Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

Rosen Online | Unlimited confidential access to a North Carolina attorney for $199/mo - click here

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service only, a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action. The information posted on this forum is available for public viewing and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship with any individual. These answers are provided for informational purposes only, a person should consult with their own individual legal counsel before taking any action that could affect their legal rights or obligations.

Thank you for the response. I really appreciate your perspective. I do have a follow up question. You said: " The better option would be to separate and then attempt to work out the separation details. And when there is a spouse exhibiting these types of behaviors, the details often need to be handled in court."

However, in document published by the Rosen Law Firm, it says this: “The date a spouse moves out will likely be considered the date of separation of the parties. This innocuous-sounding term is actually an important legal conclusion that can significantly affect the value of marital assets and debts when the time comes to divide property. By remaining in the residence until all issues of alimony, custody, and property division have been resolved, one can avoid or minimize the potential legal fallout caused by moving out.”

Also, it says this: “Moving out also creates a cascade of legal issues that can be lessened or avoided by staying in the residence. First, leaving the marital residence might be construed as ‘abandonment’ of the other spouse, under the North Carolina General Statutes. Abandonment is marital misconduct and can have an adverse effect on the amount of spousal support (alimony) that is paid or received. Second, moving out instantly makes custody a pressing issue to be resolved. Frequently, the first custody arrangement created becomes the status quo and can greatly impact the eventual permanent custody arrangement.”

Given the way my spouse has acted to this point, I’m afraid that separating before an agreement could lead to “legal fallout” – I certainly don’t want to set a “status quo” precedent of my spouse dominating custody because I moved out. Thoughts?

In an abusive situation, sometimes you have to move out before any details of a separation can be resolved. Not only does this ensure your safety, but in a majority of times, attempting to negotiate with someone such as your spouse before actually separating is futile. And because you cannot file for equitable distribution, postseparation support, and alimony before you are separated, you may find it necessary to separate first.

It’s true that it is often easier to negotiate the separation details before actually separating, but in many instances, this is not possible, especially with a spouse such as yours.

You cannot be accused of abandonment if you were justified in leaving the marriage. A spouse is justified in leaving the marriage when he/she cannot continue the marital relationship with safety, health, and self-respect. In the situation that you describe, you would be justified in leaving.

You can move out and start a separation and take your children with you, but this might not be the best way to do it. You can hire a lawyer who can send a demand letter to your spouse requiring him/her to move out by a certain date and offer a temporary custody schedule, and if he/she does not accept, then you would be prepared to file a custody lawsuit. You may also have claims for divorce from bed and board and/or for a domestic violence protective order which could order your spouse to leave the home, thus creating a marital separation.


Anna Ayscue

Attorney with Rosen Law Firm Cary • Chapel Hill • Durham • Raleigh • Wake Forest

Rosen Online | Unlimited confidential access to a North Carolina attorney for $199/mo - click here

The response posted above is based upon the limited factual information made available and is not intended as a full and complete response to the question. The only reliable manner to obtain complete and adequate legal advice is to consult with an attorney, fully explain your situation, and allow the attorney sufficient opportunity to research the applicable law and facts required to render an accurate opinion. The basic information provided above is intended as a public service only, a full discussion with an attorney should be undertaken before taking any action. The information posted on this forum is available for public viewing and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship with any individual. These answers are provided for informational purposes only, a person should consult with their own individual legal counsel before taking any action that could affect their legal rights or obligations.

I am in the exact same situation, unfortunately once my husband found out he promptly got an attorney, created a separation agreement well in his favor, I was depressed; mentally and physically unstable; and suffer from ADHD for which I was not taking medication. Because of all of my issues and his narcissistic bullying Behavior I signed the agreement in front of a notary and also signed the follow-up documentation in front of a notary 10 days later. After a long drawn-out fight the judge granted summary judgment stating that the separation agreement had been ratified by me.

Since the separation agreement was signed my husband has not informed me when one of my children was in the emergency room at midnight and many times over many months he stalked me. I even have pictures. I’m considering suing him because of the molestation and the fact that he would not inform me of my children’s health issues.

I am very curious about the outcome of your divorce situation.