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Ex-etiquette: Formal mental health diagnosis doesn't mean sole custody is written in stone

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. I had a miserable 10 years with my ex. We tried counseling, but my ex stopped it when things got too close for comfort. I am convinced she is a narcissist. She checks all the boxes. Would this be enough of a reason to get sole custody of my kids? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. I have to tell you, currently, there seems to be an abundance of exes suffering with narcissistic personality disorder. Possibly because that diagnosis has been in the news for a while. This sort of lay diagnosis seems to come in waves.

A while back, most exes were “bipolar.” If an angry partner acts irrationally, they must be mentally ill. They have a personality disorder or a chemical imbalance. Something has to be wrong with them.

Truth is, no one puts their best foot forward during a breakup. We get moody, unpredictable, irrational at times, angry, arrogant, sad, and we need to reaffirm our own importance, or act impulsively — all of which are some of the symptoms associated with narcissism and bipolar disorder. But if we are looking for a formal diagnosis, they are also symptoms of other disorders, including depression, anxiety and, drumroll…breakups.


Breakups are not easy. What leads up to them is not easy. You live in turmoil, you disagree, plus the COVID-19 lockdown put people in close proximity for long periods of time with no place to escape and no social outlets. Domestic violence increased, and I suspect there will be an increase in custody and divorce petitions. No one was prepared for this.

This is not to say your ex doesn’t have some sort of diagnosis, but she also might be incredibly stressed and unhappy, and that looks bad on anyone. However, even if there is a formal diagnosis, that doesn’t mean sole custody to either of you is written in stone. Lots of people with a mental health diagnosis share custody of their children. Unless your children are not safe with her — and you have proof, not just your opinion or a revenge campaign — sole custody to either parent may not be in your children’s best interest. Knowing this, if you really care about your kids, put down your weapons and look for ways to cooperate.

I’ve said it many times before — a child has the right to spend time with both parents. With this in mind, you will most likely be granted joint custody and share your children’s time with their mother. It is your responsibility to look for ways to do it well. If you need a professional to intercede, try a co-parenting counselor to help you improve your communication and ability to problem solve. Your kids deserve it. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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