In this article, I’ll reference the article written by Bill Eddy and expand on how parents and professionals can be on their guard for Sociopaths who manipulate the family law system.
I’ll look at what is the definition of a sociopath, their key traits, how they show up in legal disputes and what people who are working with them can do to avoid their manipulation.
What is a Sociopath?
A sociopath is also known as someone with an Antisocial Personality Disorder( ASPD). They can be very charming but they are also dangerous and deceptive.
In the New Ways for Families Course parents with sociopathic traits are referred to as the “con artists”.
People with ASPD make up only about 3 – 4% of the adult population and about 75% of them are men according to the DSM-5. (American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.)
A higher percentage of the criminal population is believed to have ASPD because their antisocial behaviour gets them put in prison but not all Sociopaths are criminals. They may be leaders in business, politicians, underworld bosses or anything in between.
Key Recognisable Traits
1. Drive for Dominance
Sociopaths often rise to a leadership role because they have the drive to dominate other people. They want to get things from other people such as their money, assets, influence, sex or control over them through threats or blackmail. In their efforts to achieve this dominant role over other people and get things from them they will often violate the law, ignore social or moral rules and hurt other people. Some enjoy hurting other people and some just don’t care if someone is hurt along the way to them achieving their goals. They lack empathy and compassion for others and just worry about their own needs.
Bill Eddy explains in his article “Many people consider sociopaths as similar to young children, who just want what they want and they want it now! They are generally impatient, seek excitement and are known for extreme risk-taking behaviour.”
They may be very irresponsible in terms of meeting their commitments. They will make deals and reach agreements without ever intending on complying with them or change their mind easily if it suits them. They will ignore traffic and similar rules. They frequently get parking tickets and don’t pay them, drive without a license if they lose it due to driving offences and generally do what they feel like when they feel like it.
They may choose not to work regularly if they are being forced to pay child support and may fail to pay their debts. Their irresponsibility may extend to failing to care for children properly or putting them in dangerous situations where they are at risk of getting hurt.
3. Lack of Empathy and Remorse
The reason that they can so easily hurt others without shame or regret is that they lack empathy. They simply can not consider things from the other person’s perspective or feel remorse for the consequences of their behaviour. They may say they do if it suits them but the reality is they are very comfortable lying to people and taking advantage of them. They will usually be ruthless in their pursuit of whatever it is they want but happy to take it rather than earning it.
They have been practising telling lies their whole lives so they can sound very credible when they make their claims against other people. They are often taken seriously when they are really lying and conning because they appear so genuine.
It is very important to seek corroborating evidence before totally accepting what they say and if you are working with or co-parenting with a sociopath keep evidence to be able to prove the truth if they start to tell lies about you.
The difference between Sociopaths and those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
People with Narcissistic personality disorder make up about 6% of the population according to the DSM-5 and they have a lot of similarities to those with Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Some people have both disorders but the traits they both share are self-centeredness, charm and lack of empathy.
“However, narcissistic personality disorder does not include characteristics of impulsivity, aggression and deceit.” (DSM-5, p. 662.) Therefore, constant lying would tend to indicate a sociopath rather than a narcissist. However, there are some people with both personality disorders, which is sometimes call malignant narcissism. This combination can be particularly vicious and dangerous. Bill Eddy – Sociopaths and their Deceptions
Recording of an interview with Charity Lee – mother of a sociopath. Listen.
Sociopaths and Disputes
Because of their anti-social behaviour, sociopaths are often involved in criminal and civil legal action and disputes due to fraudulent business deals, failure to pay their debts, theft or damage to property, will disputes and family law trials.
Sociopaths will form a romantic relationship or marry someone to gain control over their assets and then move on when they have nothing left. Some prey on the elderly in order to get access to their assets through their wills when they die.
Due to their ability to maintain a mask of charm to hide their motives people around them are often shocked to find out about their criminal or questionable behaviour including wives and children.
If a relationship partner tries to leave or deny them they will use violence and intimidation or strategies like gaslighting to keep them off balance and compliant.
Sociopaths and Family Law
When they begin using violent and controlling strategies against their family their partner may seek a restraining order against them or the police may do so. However they may convince the court that they are not abusive.
Sociopaths can be the most charming of people and incredibly persuasive. If the use of violence is to manipulate rather than due to loss of control they may have used violence in a way that makes it hard to prove that they are abusive.
From my experience victims of family violence, especially where their parent or partner uses mind games may be distraught, disorganised, contradict themselves and generally do not come across to the court as being as credible. They may not believed even though they are telling the truth.
On the other hand, since sociopaths can be such con artists, they have a pattern of falsely claiming to be the victim of their spouse when they are not. This is very confusing in family courts, as concerns of abuse are very common these days and taken very seriously. Sociopaths are skilled at making credible-sounding false allegations against their spouses. In many cases, family law professionals (lawyers, counsellors, mediators and judges) immediately believe the antisocial person and quickly tell their spouse to stop taking advantage of them and may make rulings against them based solely on the antisocial person’s story. Bill Eddy – Sociopaths and their Deceptions
This experience from the US is also something that we have seen in Australia. It is really important that professionals working in family law and especially judges keep an open mind while taking a cautions approach to safety.
What’s going on?
When there are claims and counter claims in court or mediation there are several theories that we need to keep in mind:
- The person who is being accused of bad behaviour is really behaving badly and action needs to be taken to protect their family members from them
- The person who is making the accusations is behaving badly and the person who is being accused is their victim and not acting badly at all
- Both people are acting badly towards each other and possibly other family members
When supporting or judging people in the family law system it is really important to remember that a percentage of the people you work with will be sociopaths. They will lie to your face with absolute credibility and unless there is evidence that disproves their statements you will not be able to tell with any degree of certainty whether or not they are lying.
With all the great work that has been done to bring increased understanding of family violence, child abuse, substance abuse and child alienation it is important to not close our minds to the possibility that people may be lying and making these claims as part of their strategy to win their case. Sociopaths would have no hesitation in doing that if they thought it will give them an advantage.
If you have a client who is dealing with a high conflict former partner encourage them to do the New Ways Course and get a New Ways Coach and request in your interim orders that the other partner does the course as well.
Request a complimentary professional evaluation of the New Ways for Families Course.
If you are caught up in the family law system with a former partner who is a sociopath, has some other type of personality disorder or has a High Conflict Personality it is important to remember that the single most important thing you can do to improve your case is not to become high conflict as well.
Learning and applying the 4 big skills and teaching them to your children will be protective for you and your children. You can’t control the behaviour of your former partner but you can control your own and not allow them to manipulate you into doing things that harm your position in the case or your credibility.
Purchase the New Ways for Families Online Course and book in for a complimentary discussion about New Ways Coaching with a coach.
Learn More from Bill Eddy
Misunderstanding Personality Disorders in Family Court
Part 1: Parents and professionals need a better understanding of personality disorders:
Part 2: Three theories of a case must be considered:
Part 3: Explain high-conflict behavior with simple, repetitive, factual themes:
Part 4: New Ways for Families is one method of reducing conflict and teaching skills:
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