Family court cases can be intense. The parties deal with emotional, sensitive personal issues that can cause feelings of anger, frustration, panic, and anguish. 

In disputed divorces, property settlement, spousal support, and child custody cases, it is common for parties to say hateful and cruel things about their spouse. False statements are also common as each party fights to obtain its desired outcomes. 

However, what happens when a spouse crosses the line? When does a heated family court case become a civil suit for defamation?

Defining Defamation for a Family Court Action 

Defamation is a statement that harms a person’s reputation. California Civil Code §44 states that defamation is achieved through libel or slander.

According to the code, libel is: 

  • Unprivileged and false publication by writing or another method of publication THAT
  • Exposes a person to vilification, ridicule, contempt, or hatred OR
  • Causes a person to be avoided or shunned OR
  • Tends to cause harm to the person’s occupation 

The code defines slander as:

  • Unprivileged and false publication spoken or communicated by radio or other mechanical means THAT
  • Charges a present with a crime or states they have been convicted, indicted, or punished for a crime OR
  • Alleges the person has a contagious, infectious, or loathsome disease OR
  • Tends to cause harm to the person concerning his profession, office, business, or trade OR
  • Alleges “impotence or a want of chastity” OR
  • Causes actual damage by natural consequence

Libel and slander are intentional lies that cause harm to another person. If your spouse has defamed you during your family court case and you sustained harm, you might recover compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

What Are the Elements of a Defamation Lawsuit in San Diego?

Recovering compensation for damages requires that you prove each element of a defamation lawsuit in California. The legal elements of defamation are:

  • The statement or writing was a fact. Offering an opinion about someone is not defamation. Therefore, your spouse must have asserted that what they said or wrote was a fact.
  • The statement of writing was false. You cannot sue your spouse if what they said or wrote about you during your divorce was true.
  • The writing or statement was defamatory. The communication must fall within the definition of slander or libel provided by the California Civil Code.
  • The libel or slander must have resulted in harm as described in the statutes.
  • The communication must have been made public or known to a third party. You can publish communication in many ways. For example, you could tell someone, post a statement online, or tweet the statement.

You have the burden of proving your case. You must prove that the person is guilty of slander or libel and you sustained harm or injury because of the libel or slander. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not (over a 50% chance) that your allegations are true.

Can a Defamatory Statement Be Subject to Privilege?

Privilege is the right to keep information private and confidential. Privileged information is not subject to discovery or disclosure. The court cannot force a person to testify or disclose privileged information. 

Attorney-client privilege plays an essential role in the judicial system. It allows clients to talk openly and honestly with their lawyers without fear their conversations will become part of the public record or be disclosed to a third party. 

In a family court case, privilege might protect you from being sued for defamation if your statements are made as part of the family court case. For example, your statements in court and depositions are made under oath. Therefore, you are required to tell the truth.

However, allegations of libel and slander require that the communication is false. Also, court cases require testimony and evidence. If anyone could be sued for defamation for what they said in a court case, no one would be willing to testify.

Do I Have a Defamation Case Against My Spouse for Things Said in My Divorce in California?

You might not be able to sue your spouse for defamation for things they say about you during litigation. However, if your spouse posts false information about you online or tells your child’s teacher lies about you, you could have a defamation claim if the communications caused you harm.

The best way to know whether you have a defamation case is to talk to an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can review your case to determine if the communication rises to the level of defamation. An attorney can also provide legal advice regarding your rights related to a family law matter and the steps you should take to protect your best interests.

Contact Our Divorce Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego divorce lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108