Legal Insights:

Protecting Your Rights and Interests in Co-Parenting

· Main,Narcissists

When we are messaging on behalf of our clients, one of the frequent questions we ask is "what does the decree say" This question is interchangeable with "what do the orders say?"

These questions are so frequent and we often have screenshot snippets of parts of the clients' decrees handy so that we can attach them in messaging.

So, what does your decree say? This is vital! Keep reading to learn our suggestions for understanding your decree and navigating your legal rights. We aren't attorneys. if you need legal advice, seek a qualified lawyer in your State.

To navigate the new normal in your co-parenting relationship with your narcissist, you must have a thorough understanding of your legal rights and the responsibilities defined by your divorce decree.

You need to know BOTH! What are your rights? But also what are you responsible for?

Real World Story: One of our clients recently wasn't giving his narcissist ex the information required from his court orders. While we communicate on his behalf in our service, we also had to remind him that he will NOT look good in court if he is not adhering to what is already ordered.

Yes, we work on our client's behalf, but we also often have to correct our member's own behaviors to keep them compliant with their court orders.

Understanding Your Divorce Decree

Key Concepts:

  • Thorough Knowledge: Familiarize yourself with every detail of your divorce decree. Understanding the specifics can prevent misunderstandings and empower you to uphold your rights.
  • Clarity on Provisions: If any provisions in the decree are unclear, seek clarity from a legal professional in your state. Misinterpretations can lead to disputes and legal complications.

Strategies for Ambiguous Provisions:

Where the decree states “Parents shall decide,” proactively develop strategies and agree on guidelines to manage these decisions smoothly. Anticipating conflicts and having pre-decided rules can significantly reduce future disputes.

Legal Preparation and Documentation

  • Maintain Accurate Records: Keep your calendar up-to-date with all parenting schedules, appointments, and commitments. Accurately document any changes or deviations from the decree, including the reasons behind them.
  • Adherence to the Decree: Resist the urge to informally alter the decree’s terms. If changes become necessary or habitual, officially file for a modification to align the decree with your current practices. This formal step prevents legal vulnerabilities and reflects your commitment to following proper procedures.

Leveraging Legal Tools and Knowledge

  • Utilize Canned Responses: Employ canned responses in communications to keep exchanges clear and within the bounds of what is legally permissible. This practice can prevent escalations and maintain focus on the topic at hand.
  • Know Your State’s Laws: Familiarize yourself with state-specific laws regarding joint custody, including the distinctions between joint legal and physical custody. Understanding these nuances can guide your decisions and strategies in co-parenting.
  • Legal Representation: Choose an attorney who specializes in family law and understands the intricacies of your state’s legal system. A skilled lawyer can effectively represent your position and inform you of the realistic outcomes of your legal actions.

Handling Legal Threats and Actions

  • Avoid Empty Threats: Do not threaten legal action that the courts are unlikely to enforce. Such threats can undermine your credibility and escalate conflicts unnecessarily.
  • Proactive Legal Actions: If disputes cannot be resolved through communication or mediation, do not hesitate to take legal action. Being proactive about filing necessary motions can often bring about quicker resolutions than mere threats.
  • Understanding Contempt and Court Proceedings: Recognize that family courts operate differently from criminal courts. They often favor arrangements that involve both parents. However, if your ex-spouse violates the decree, understand the process of filing for contempt. Remember, proving contempt requires a higher standard of evidence.

Summary of State Laws and Case Precedents

What outcomes for child custody are typically ordered in in your state? Our advice is to thorougly research the statute(s) AND case law precedence in your state regarding the division of legal and physical custody. It is critical to know what is possible prior to pursuing a lawsuit that may not even be possible to win.

Real World Example:

In a recent case for one of our members, the ex asserted that our member should have to pay several hundred dollars more annually for a child's extracurricular activities. They already had am amoun that they stipulated of $250/year/child. The ex wanted to increase that to $600/year/child. However, in researching the laws in their state it became clear that there were no laws, statutes or case precedence that would allow for the arbitrary increase in a stipulated amount from a divorce decree. In fact, the judge and court in that state doesn't even have jurisdiction over a monetary order for extracurricular activities.

Knowing what is possible and what is impossible will save you lots of money!

Attorney Fees! You probably ain't getting them

Many individuals enter the legal process with the hope or expectation that the court will require the other party to pay their legal costs. However, it's important to recognize that securing an award of attorney fees is quite challenging and relatively rare in most jurisdictions.

The criteria for awarding attorney fees vary significantly depending on the state and the specifics of the case. Generally, courts may consider factors such as the financial disparity between the parties, the conduct of the parties during litigation, and whether one party's actions increased the litigation costs unnecessarily.

Even in cases where these factors are present, the award is not guaranteed. Therefore, it’s essential for those involved in legal disputes to have a realistic understanding of this aspect to avoid unexpected financial burdens. Before hiring an attorney, discuss the likelihood of recovering attorney fees based on the specifics of your case and the typical outcomes observed in your legal jurisdiction. This discussion can help set realistic expectations and aid in financial planning for the legal process ahead.

Attorneys Can Smell Emotion!

When you are flustered and frustrated by your situation and from dealing with your high-conflict ex, realize that an attorney will start licking their lips to get you to sign on with them. High emotions means high expenses. You will spend a fortune trying to argue a point that you may have very little chance of winning.

Our advice is to thoroughly research your position. Take a breath and step back from the situation being personal and dig into the lega research behind what you want to assert to the court.

Here's an example from Idaho:

Open this link to read the Idaho Code section that forms the basis for nearly all family court decisions regarding physical and legal custody.

After reading the code section, what did you notice? Here are a few nuggets from the code:

  • Joint Custody is PRESUMED by the law to be in the child's best interest. Legal presumptions are very hard to overcome in most jurisdictions. A presumption is something that everyone is ENTITLED to by the law. Similar to how you're entitled to the presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" the presumption of joint custody is outlined here.
  • Joint Custody is defined by the section by significant and frequent time in each parent's care.
  • Unequal time is okay: Notice that it isn't a presumption for 50/50 and unequal time is not a factor as much as time that will be best for the child. If a child is in school, for example, one parent may get the school week while the other gets the weekends.
  • Exceptions to the law? Only one is codified and that is the "habitual perpetrator of domestic violence" from section (5). Did you see that? What is the definition of a habitual perpetrator of domestic violence? The law defines it in another section. But the law doesn't contimplate the words "Habitual Perpetrator". That definition comes from case law with "habitual" meaning more than once and "perpetrator" meaning convictions in a court of law.

    Therefore, to be a "habitual perpetrator of domestic violence" in Idaho means that you've been convicted more than once of domestic violence.
  • What isn't there: It is important to note what isn't gonna win someone full custody in Idaho.
    • Alcoholic parent? Nope.
    • How about a felon? Nope.
    • What about someone who had harmed a child? Not necessarily.
    • What about a co-parent who is mean to the other parent all the time? Probably not.
    • What about a parent who doesn't choose the right schools for the child? No

I believe many frustrated parents are surprised by what the court doesn't consider when they are seeking more custody. But the law is clear and case law typically supports the statutes. It is imperative to seek out the laws in YOUR state and thoroughly read the statute and the case law supporting your case PRIOR to bringing an action against your ex. Can you win? Knowing that before filing will save you time, money and emotion energy.


Effectively managing your legal rights in a co-parenting arrangement requires a combination of thorough knowledge of your divorce decree, proactive legal preparedness, and strategic use of communication. By staying informed and prepared, you can ensure that your interactions with your narcissistic ex are handled in a manner that protects both your rights and the best interests of your children. Remember, in the realm of family law, being well-prepared is your best defense.