Podcast Episode 47
Elizabeth Stephenson, Sarah Hink, Jen Bordeaux
Guest: Kerrie Droban
Elizabeth: Hi everyone. It’s Elizabeth Stephenson with New Direction Family Law.
Sarah: And I’m Elizabeth’s partner, Sarah Hink, attorney at New Direction Family Law. And today we have a great guest. And Jen’s gonna introduce this episode for us.
Jen: Hi guys. I am Jen, NOT an attorney at New Direction Family Law. (laughing) I’m so excited for our guest today. I’ve spoken with her before and we had a great conversation. We have Ms. Kerrie Droban joining us today. Hi Kerrie!
Kerrie: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Jen: Of course, we’re so excited that you are joining us today to talk about a fun, maybe scary topic as well.
Elizabeth: I don’t know if I could qualify it as fun. (laughing)
Jen: Interesting. Maybe. And you’re joining us from Arizona. Just a little information here about Kerrie, she is an award-winning true crime author and criminal and family law attorney. As a family law attorney, she has helped many women who have found themselves in abusive marriages with numerous appearances and interviews on national television, podcasts, radio shows, and speaking at conferences. She has established herself as an expert on the pathology of the criminal mind, motorcycle gangs, and mentored new and aspiring true crime writers and helped women avoid becoming prey. So lots of good little nuggets here.
Sarah: And our last podcast we just did about being followed. And Kerrie, you just, you do so much. Like I said before, you must be so busy. I love the area of true crime, but I barely have time to read it and listen to it. And you’re out there, serving the greater good, getting out there helping other women and protecting themselves the might fall victim like Jen said.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So how did you get into the true crime sphere?
Kerrie: I think the two actually are a good marriage, unintended. Because I deal with not necessarily women, most are women, but people that are trying to divorce a dark personality. And so that would encompass the narcissist, the psychopath, and the sociopath. And really like how do you get outta a relationship like that?
Sarah: And a lot of people don’t realize that they’re in one for a long time. I have so many people come to me and I’m like, “I bet when you first met that he was really charming, or she was really charming and you were happy and that’s why things got rushed.” And they’re like, “Yeah, they love bombed me. And the next thing I know, I’m in this relationship and I lost a bunch of weight. I don’t have my friends anymore, and I don’t have my family. It’s like all of a sudden all these terrible things happen to me and I wake up in this relationship with this awful person.” And it’s all kinds of people, right? People, attorneys like us, and all kinds of educated people just get victimized in these situations, right?
Kerrie: It’s really kinda startling actually who gets involved and a shocking reality when you realize you’re involved with somebody like this. You know, 1 in 25 people is a sociopath. And that’s a pretty startling statistic. And they usually run the gamut from anybody from doctors, to CEOs, so they’re out there and, not all of them necessarily, have criminal intent to commit crimes, but it’s that personality that makes them so dangerous.
Elizabeth: So what’s the personality? What traits should someone be looking for?
Kerrie: I’ll just say that the important thing about the three: the narcissist, psychopath, and sociopath is not so much the label that we give them, but it’s identifying a certain personality, the personality disorder that they have, the behaviors that they exhibit. That’s what we’re really trying to identify, so that we can get out from them. Because when you’re involved in a relationship with one of these personalities, it’s really like a homicide in slow motion. A sociopath is somebody who has a learned behavior. They, they very much resemble a psychopath or a narcissist. But there are differences, and the way that I like to characterize the differences is that every psychopath is a narcissist. Every sociopath is a narcissist, but not every narcissist is a psychopath or a sociopath. And the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that a sociopath doesn’t have any guilt or shame, and a psychopath usually is born. So you have a sociopath that’s made and a psychopath who’s born. So those are the differences. But when you’re involved in a relationship with one, it can look very similar to being involved in a relationship with a narcissist. For example, the psychopath is gonna be very glib and charming, usually highly intelligent, very manipulative. They wear what’s called a mask of vanity. And the sociopath is very similar, but the difference is that the sociopath is gonna have shame, but they’re not going to have any empathy. There’s no empathy, there’s no response that you would anticipate or expect in a person. So if you’re very emotional and you’re not getting anything back, usually you’re dealing with a sociopath. Whereas a psychopath will wear that mask, so they know the words to say, but, there’s a saying that people experience a psychopath, so when you’re in their presence, you may walk away feeling a little uncomfortable, a little unnerved, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Elizabeth: I always think of sociopaths and psychopaths to have a violent tendency to them, where I don’t attach that to a narcissist. But I could be completely wrong.
Sarah: When you think about the complete lack of empathy, and disregard for other people at that level, that’s what helps them commit a crime. They aren’t thinking about the repercussions or how their actions affect someone else. They like their own world. “These actions are what I need and what I think is right. So they are right.” And this is no empathy for this other person at all. And so that helps people be violent. What stops us from being violent is “oh shit, that’s gonna hurt someone and I don’t want this person to get hurt.” There’s actual reasoning there and like logic and thinking about other people’s wellbeing and also consequences. And a lot of times, sociopaths and this category of people, they don’t have a lot of regard for consequences. Those don’t exist to them. And I’m not a trained or licensed mental health professional, so I can’t diagnose people with personality disorders or any level of narcissism or sociopath or psychopath. But we obviously see these source people in our line of work. You too, Kerrie, being an attorney, family law attorney, you know relationships don’t survive very well with a marriage to a sociopath.
Kerrie: So when you’re in their presence, really the abuse is more psychological than physical. Although you’re right, it can lead to violence, physical violence. And that the frustration I think in family law practice, and I know you must experience this as well, is that we don’t have, the law doesn’t recognize psychological abuse. So they only recognize if it’s physical abuse. And so that becomes a really frustrating, double-edged sword when you’re involved in these kinds of relationships because you can’t, quote domestic violence, even though it’s insidious. And it leads to gaslighting and all kinds of other issues.
Sarah: Yeah, A lot of times I speak to victims and I get the little tidbits alert me okay, there’s a lot going on here, but they don’t share it. A lot of people hold it within. They’re ashamed of this relationship that they’re in, that they got to the point where someone is controlling them. Someone is abusing them psychologically or even sometimes physically and they don’t come out and say it. And there’s just little parts that you have to pick up. In my experience, working with victims, attorneys really need to listen to them and ask more questions and say, “oh, okay, you, you said that he threw something.” Has he done that before? Or how did he speak to you? What exactly did he say? Has he done this before? What’s this, what time of day does this generally happen? “Oh, it’s a normal occurrence.” Like you have to really get these victims to open up to you because they do hold it in and are ashamed of what has become, of what they thought was a happy relationship, a positive person, and they’re ashamed that they married this person and clearly see that they’re not a good person now and it’s scary.
Kerrie: When you’re dealing with these dark personalities, there has to be a strategy in place, because people in those relationships might not even know what’s real anymore. They’ve been so gaslighted. So when you get them and they’re trying to share their experience, it’s really I think from a litigation standpoint, there’s so many gaps in the story that they’re telling. And try to get the story, to get the victim to tell the narrative, and put themselves front row center and come. What’s the strategy here? Can we anticipate what their high points are gonna be? What I found in my practice is it’s all about unmasking, unmasking that psychopath, that narcissist, that sociopath for the person that they are, because they don’t like to reveal the mask. You know, what is their hot button? Is it money? Is it the children? Is it both? Usually it’s control. So how do you get them to relinquish that control?
Sarah: Yeah, it’s definitely control and a lot of worry. I always hear the same thing. “Oh, he’s so charming. Everyone finds him so charming and the jury or the judge is gonna find him so charming.” Like, how are we gonna deal with this? And like you said, it’s really about unmasking them and getting as much evidence as you can to catch him or her off guard. And expose them for lying cuz a lot of these are masterful liars. So they do lie a lot. And you’re able to catch them in lies and that’s how they control everyone around them and take away their leverage. A lot of times they’ll fight for custody, but they don’t really actually have a relationship with their children. And that’s something that a lot of mothers, if it’s a woman who’s separating from someone that’s a sociopath, is afraid of if I leave, then he has full access to those kids and I’m not there to protect them. So I understand a lot of fear in wanting to leave a relationship like that. Because it’s scary. It’s a time where there could be violence, where someone could face harm is when you’re leaving a relationship like this. And also the thought of my children being exposed to it without me being.
Kerrie: And I think that’s an understandable fear. And kind of along lines, there’s also the financial abuse that’s been going on. Usually there’s a disparity in income between the partners and, so that’s another either given up a career or has a lesser career or has done everything in their power to help the other person’s career. And so there’s a lot of fear that if they divorce this person, they’ll lose everything. And I think it’s important to flip it around and say, “You can prevail, you can win the litigation against a narcissist, but you have to come in from the get go with the strategy in place,.” Anticipate the defense and find out what their leverage is and turn that focus back on the person that you’re dealing with, the client. And so I think it’s important. Give them a whole new approach to how you communicate with these people.
And psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists. So you have that same sort of pathology that you’re going into in the case, it’s just that they’re even more cunning. The psychopath is much more cunning. And so I think there’s a lot of fear that when you go into litigation that person, that personality is going to really manipulate and overpower the judge. And so I think a lot of that approach, from the lawyer’s perspective needs to be education. Like how do you educate the people in the courtroom about this personality? So you bring in experts, you know you, you file up routine motions explaining that personality disorder, and I think with that from the beginning, then you can come into it so much stronger.
Sarah: Yeah. We’ve done a few episodes in our podcast about psychological evaluations. And getting therapists involved to come testify, be experts. And you’re right. A judge is just gonna see these people on their best behavior in the courtroom, they’re gonna come in there, they’re gonna charm and tell their story, make it look like the other person is crazy, making up things that, that wasn’t like that I’m a good father or a good mother and have this job. I take care of everyone. So you have to come in there with experts to back up your client that this is real, this is what’s happening. And we need to take our concerns seriously on our side to protect not only our client, but if there’s children involved, the children as.
Kerrie: And I think that’s also important to, to communicate that to our clients who also may not know. Tell them this, that the children are just a pawn in their game. Oftentimes it’s all about control and power and manipulation. The court’s not educated with this kind of personality disorder, they’re gonna suggest co-parenting. You can’t co-parent with this personality. It’s gotta be off the table right from the beginning, so there’s lots of ways of communicating as you go through the litigation and to that victim or that client for life after. Like, how do you obviously have shared custody maybe, or you have, parenting time. I always stress is, less is more. Brevity. Just have a brief script. Everything that you do from here on out is gonna become evidence, so emails, everything to preserve the case. The onset of Zoom has been a wonderful introduction to all of us. Because now they can record FaceTime. So they’re always those terms that unfortunately, this is always going to be something that you have to use against them. Divorce, unfortunately, is never really over. The divorce is so that you’re physically separated. These guys can take you back to court for every little thing. Enforcement actions, support. Um, so it’s, I think it’s just really important to get into that mindset, to correct them.
Elizabeth: Okay. The part of a lot of things I say to clients is, “I can get you the tightest order, I can get you, but I can’t make him be a human being or be a good parent.” And so it’s, this is exactly what you say, that this is a lifelong, you got at least a lifelong intertwining with this person. And so you have to, our advice, I think Sarah does this too, is we say to our clients, “If you’re not in therapy, you need to get a good counselor, a good therapist, cuz I need you healthy and strong to help me fight this battle.” And a lot of times the first time they realize they’re even in an abusive relationship is when they start talking to me. And they start telling me, “oh, he yells, he throws things, he punches walls with no big deal.” It is a big deal. So you’re, they’re starting out. You need to take a little while to educate people about that and then to give them that education and be there for their support and help them be strong to stand up to this person. It’s a long road sometimes.
Sarah: And it’s not something they did either.
Elizabeth: And sometimes, and I’ve found myself doing this cuz I’m divorced. I’m not a psycho psychopath or anything, but sometimes it’s just hard and you’re tired and you just say,” I don’t wanna rock the boat. Yeah. Let’s just let it go.” And I completely understand that.
Kerrie: The tendency to wanna just scrap your arms, and I’ve heard this a lot too. Clients will say, “I just want the kids. I don’t care about anything else.” And my response to them is, care about everything else. I always prepare clients and say, this is a fight. It’s probably. The fight of your life because you’re gonna be fighting for the most important things in your life, your children, your money, your sanity, all of those things that have been slowly eroding over time. And I think you’re absolutely right. It’s the reality of what has been happening that I think is so shocking and so difficult to divorce cases should be a collaborative effort when they pull in the tax person, financial planner, all of these people that need to be a part of the supply and stop the narcissist so that you’re not constantly feeding that disorder to heal yourself at the same time. So it’s such a battle and it’s such an unfortunate and personal experience with that. So even somebody who’s really well versed in this pathology as well versed in the law, it can happen to anyone because it’s so destabilizing and these personality disorders are so insidious.
Elizabeth: There are good outcomes though, right? At the end of the day, it may be a hard fought battle, but you can win. You can make a better life. You can detach yourself from this person. You may not ever be able to co-parent, but you can protect your children as best as you can, right?
Kerrie: I would absolutely agree with that. I think that there is life after. And, and that’s always been my goal as a practitioner, is to get them to thrive. I don’t want these clients to just spiral into shame and regret. You can pull yourself out of it. And so we need to pull away from these personalities, it’s the first and foremost thing because it’s dangerous to be involved with them and you’re never gonna or change them. The only people that you can fix or change is yourself. And so by redirecting or rewriting that narrative versus the narcissist, actually putting them on a road to success and rebuilding they’re learning new boundaries and they’re learning self protection. And they’re finally standing up and understanding in their truth, that’s the success story. And the more that they can go out there and talk about their experience, I think the more that they can help people that are in that situation that may not even realize that they’re in that situation. And I think you’re right about that. Like there, there’s a lot of excuses because it’s so shocking to wake up one day and think, “Oh my God.” My favorite movie was actually a mini-series called The Undoing with Hugh Grant and Aman. I just thought that it was such a brilliant miniseries that really brought home the idea of a really intelligent psychologist, and sucked into that charm of the psychopath that she married. Like you’re at the mercy of whatever the person you’re with was willing to disclose. And, you might not really know the person you’re with. You might think, there’s so much after the fact that I think can really help shed light on the relationship.
Jen: I have a question for the three of you. So you guys have talked about you can’t really co-parent necessarily with a sociopath. So do you think that, we’ve talked a lot about litigation, do you think that it’s a realistic possibility to settle outside of court with a sociopath? Or do you think that someone’s just destined to go to court?
Sarah: If you can get leverage somehow, if you find out what’s important. I think Kerrie mentioned that before, what’s the leverage here? I’m asking them what’s important to them. Is it really the money? I’ve had cases where a lot of it is the money. And my client does just want the kids and I counsel them and we figure out, okay, she’s lucky enough to have some financial support from her family, right? And he’s willing to settle for it. Okay, you know what? Take the money and she will take the kids. But a lot of people are not that lucky to have that money and the financial support from their family.
Elizabeth: In my experience, it’s always reputation. I don’t want the kids. I just wanna look like I’m a great dad. And they don’t wanna be exposed in court. So I settle a lot actually, if we can settle.
Sarah: Because otherwise it’s really expensive. Like they’ll, they will keep litigating, like Kerrie said before. They will litigate, litigate, to have the upper hand to have control. Some of the times I tell them like, the best thing that’ll happen is if this person gets another spouse. Puts their energy into tormenting someone else. Like that will be the best thing that could happen, which is really sad. But they need to have control over someone. And if they’re losing control over you, they’ll find somebody else. They need to find someone else to control. Sometimes it doesn’t help though, but it can.
Kerrie: Yeah, I think it is or mediate and I think that it’s actually something that, should try because, it’s a sense of finality. If the strategy is you don’t wanna keep being dragged through the work process and you drain your financial resources, draining your emotions, your energy, and because of that. So I think that mediation is great if you can get it, because you have everybody sign a dotted line before you leave that mediation, and that’s leverage in of itself, signed contract that you can then use as enforcement. And so it’s well worth everybody’s time.
Sarah: Yeah, and it’s helpful to find a good mediator to fit this personality, who’s gonna go into this person’s room, the narcissist, psychopath, the sociopath, and let them know that they are not gonna be believed all the time. That they’re, they are gonna be exposed in the courtroom. That they’re not gonna go in there and sweet talk their way through everything. And not everyone’s gonna believe the story they tell that is problematic for them. I think they need to hear that from a third party. Sometimes their own attorneys will get sucked into it, and they just portray this person even more so as the most stellar person in the world. So you really gotta be careful and choose a mediator to get inside that person’s room and be like, “Hey, you’re not gonna be believed. I can see through you. The judge is gonna see through you to use this opportunity to settle.” So choose your mediator well, so you can get a, so even if you don’t settle, at least there’s something in that guy or woman’s brain that says, “Okay, I agree with that.”
Kerrie: Yeah I think that’s a really good strategy. Another good effective strategy is to try to get temporary orders very early on in the case before you do general litigation because if you give them temporary parenting time, temporary orders, they’re gonna because that’s just who they’re, they can’t help themselves. And so by the time you leverage again, where they’re missing appointments with their kids, they’re, I mean they’re hanging themselves now, you can take it, say, okay, how about mediation? So I think it’s all part of that initial strategy, like how are you going to knock down or unmask that personality and really beat them out on their own game.
Sarah: A hundred percent.
Elizabeth: And I think sometimes like the victim spouse, I think it’s very powerful, especially in those temporary hearings, because ours are limited, so we’re limited to an hour or two. But it’s the first time in their whole life with this person, they’ve had a voice, they get up on that stand, and they tell their story and tell their truth. Like you say, it can be very empowering for them, even if they don’t get everything that they want.. They’ve gotten up there, they’ve said in front of this person that’s treated them like shit for all these years and come out and they survived. And I think that’s all they really need to understand is, I can say it, I can get in front of him and I survived and I’m not gonna die. He’s not gonna kill me. He can’t control me anymore. So I think it can be positive on both sides to get those temporary orders and they could have been a mediation is the best thing to do.
Sarah: Definitely. There’s been a lot of good advice today. Yes, Kerrie, thank you so much for joining us!
Elizabeth: Thank you!
Kerrie: Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah: Are you still practicing family law or are you full-time writing now? I don’t know how you do both.
Kerrie: I still practice family law if I’m passionate about it. I feel like I really wanna empower people to get out of these very dangerous relationships. And so I do.
Sarah: Awesome. Any listeners out there in Arizona, look up Kerrie over there. Give her a call.
Jen: And of course we’ll have all of your information linked for the episode as far as books and websites and all things, Kerrie. So Kerrie, thank you so much for joining us!
Sarah: Thank you, Kerrie.
Elizabeth: Thanks Kerrie!
Sarah: Ain’t that some shit.
Elizabeth: And that’s some shit.