Revenge as a motivator in custody circumstances

3D illustration depicting a phone with a revenge concept.


The why of revenge

Revenge is a leading cause of committing crimes, particularly relationship crimes such as stalking and image-based sexual abuse. It also explains most homicides. It is a global phenomenon that manifests itself in virtually all societies and persists over time. It was a recurring theme in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Vengeance manifests itself in different ways depending on whether it is carried out by a single person or by a group. On the individual level it is more intense.

What is revenge?

Revenge is aggression, a behavioral response emanated by an individual based on a perception of an injustice done to the individual – who becomes the aggressor. It is directed against the person whom the aggressor identifies as having caused the injury suffered. It is important for the person seeking revenge to feel hurt and to realize that the harm they believe has been suffered is not involuntary. Revenge and anger are usually closely related, and anger is generally a good indicator of revenge. The relationship between anger and revenge has led to research linking the three variables that currently make up the so-called dark personality triad (dark triad) to revenge. This research found evidence of the relationship between narcissism and revenge.

The “dark triad”

Psychologists identify three traits that make up the “dark triad”: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

Individuals exhibiting this trifecta of dark personality types have unique difficulties in relating to others, and their sense of self is not aligned with prevailing moral codes. They are highly uncomfortable, lack empathy, are very selfish and/or manipulative.

Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy are socially aversive personality traits that are strongly associated with violent behavior.

The “dark triad” and the use of children in family court proceedings

The relationship between the “dark triad” and the use some parents make of their children to attack the other parent after a couple breaks up illustrates a higher level of dark triad characteristics and a willingness to engage in judicial manipulation. Dark Triad traits are indicators of judicial manipulation.

The cases

In our legal practice, particularly in custody disputes, we have encountered cases of the so-called “dark triad” which resulted in parents intentionally attempting to rig the court or lie to the court about the other parent without regard to how they are doing Lying can ultimately affect their children.

pepin. Pepin is the father of two daughters aged 15 and 9. The older daughter has addiction problems and is self-circumcising. The child negotiates by secreting alcohol and knives. The mother reports only behaviors that she can attribute to the father and uses any child relapse as a basis for reducing the child’s time with the father. In one child swap, the mother intentionally gassed her car while the father attempted to strap the younger child into her seat with the back door open and the father’s feet on the sidewalk and tow the father in the moving vehicle. Every meeting with the child’s psychiatrists is a meeting that the mother uses to judge the father in the presence of the child. The mother sends hundreds of emails to everyone involved, laying out her version of events and essentially burying the child’s psychological needs and any concerns the father has in order to remove him from the children’s lives. The mother is obsessed with revenge to a pathological point.

Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a victim of domestic violence. She received a protective order against her husband for stalking her and after he tried to force down her front door while the children were home with a babysitter, demanding to know “who she is.” [the Wife] was on a date,” which scares the kids. Her two sons, aged 8 and 10, want to see their father, but only under supervised conditions. The father refuses additional time with the children offered and consistently cancels his visits to the boys, which disappoints them. The husband denies any childcare and unpaid medical expenses for the children and refuses to pay despite court orders. He is only interested in the mother and his revenge on her for filing for divorce and leaving him.

gina Gina fled with her daughter to her home state after ten months of marriage with her husband during which he locked her out during her pregnancy, locked her in the bedroom and turned off the air conditioner in August, denied her money, refused to leave her home, pushed her and caused bruises on her arms. In a whole year the father did not spend time with his daughter, but constantly insists that his wife return to him. He fought her in court in her home state and in upstate New York and continues to fight for custody of the child he does not know and who does not know him.

What must be done to recognize the “dark features” and take revenge?

The relationship between dark traits and manipulating children to attack the other parent has not been studied. Research is ongoing to determine whether people in the process of a couple’s separation who are willing to lie about their children possess higher levels of the three dimensions that make up the dark triad. “The Dark Triad and the Exposure of Parental Judicial Manipulators. Developing a Justice Manipulation Scale.” The authors’ hypothesis is whether people with higher levels of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and/or narcissism (i.e., the “dark personality”) will admit they are more likely to be able to deceive and admit in court lying is of practical interest in determining custody of children. The goal of this research is to create a forensic manipulation scale for the willingness to lie and use children to harm the other parent that could be used in professional practice. The authors’ main hypotheses are that this scale correlates with each of the traits in the dark triad, such that these traits could be used as potential indicators of court manipulation during or after a custody battle. Dark triad variables are therefore expected to be predictors of a person’s consent to “dirty” justice behavior. The scale is designed to help the justice system determine which parent is most likely to be designated legal guardian.


A scientifically valid scale that psychologists working in the court system might use to identify parents who exhibit the “dark traits” as those most likely to use the courts to seek revenge, just to seek revenge, would be extremely helpful to help identify the appropriate parent to be given custody of.

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