Can I Sue My Spouse for Defamation During a Divorce?

Many divorce cases are complex and emotional. If a spouse releases tension by saying or writing bad things about the other spouse, however, the divorce can get more complicated. The things one spouse says about another during a divorce case could have legal consequences. A divorce could lead to a defamation lawsuit if one spouse says or writes something that causes damage to the other spouse. It is possible to file a lawsuit against a spouse for defamation during a divorce case in California.

What Is Defamation?

California Civil Code Section 48a defines the tort, or wrongdoing, of defamation. Defamation is any form of communication that is false and damages the subject’s reputation. A defamatory statement is more than just someone’s opinion. It is a falsehood someone presents as a fact, and one that causes harm to the subject. Defamation has two forms.

  1. Libel is the written form of defamation. Libel can come in the form of social media posts, blogs, online comments, chat rooms, websites, and newspaper or magazine articles.
  2. Slander is oral defamation. A spouse may be guilty of slander if he or she makes false oral statements that hurt the other spouse’s reputation, such as lying about a spouse cheating while at a social event.

A false statement can only count as defamation if it is untrue, and if a third party reads or hears it. If the incident only involved the spouses, and no one else hears or reads the statement in question, it will not constitute defamation. A spouse can ask their lawyer if they are unsure whether what the other spouse said or did counts as defamation during a divorce case.

Grounds for a Defamation Claim

Filing a lawsuit for defamation could result in a mandatory retraction of what one spouse said, broadcast, or published about the other. This can help restore the injured spouse’s tarnished reputation. A successful lawsuit could also force the spouse guilty of defamation to pay damages. Damages could include lost wages, court costs, attorney’s fees, pain and suffering, and lost business or opportunities because of the defamation. Success takes proving five main elements.

  1. The statement or communication was false. It is not possible to file a claim against a spouse for telling the truth, even if it caused you damages. The communication must be false.
  2. The statement was not an opinion. The spouse must have presented the comment as a fact, not an opinion. A spouse cannot file a claim for another spouse expressing his or her opinions.
  3. The statement was defamatory. A defamatory statement damages one’s reputation, and exposes an attempt to injure, ridicule, or shame the subject.
  4. The spouse published the statement. The alleged libel or slander must have gone to a third party. The spouse must have published or spread the communication in some way.
  5. The incident must have caused injury. The defamation must have caused the spouse filing the claim some kind of damages, such as an injured reputation or lost job.

The burden of proof in most divorce defamation cases is on the defendant, or the spouse allegedly guilty of defamation. The defendant’s attorney will bear the burden to prove that what he or she said did not count as defamation. This may be possible if the defendant’s lawyer can prove he or she issued a true statement, gave an opinion instead of a fact, or never communicated the statement to a third person. Otherwise, the defendant may have to pay damages.

Do You Have a Claim?

Many divorce cases in California involve defamation lawsuits. If you believe you have grounds for a claim against your spouse for libel or slander, contact an attorney. You could be eligible for compensation from your spouse for his or her misconduct.