What Happens If You Commit Perjury In Family Court?
Family court proceedings can be extremely emotional and stressful experiences. During contentious divorce and child custody cases, some individuals may feel tempted to bend the truth or lie under oath in order to gain an advantage. However, providing false testimony under oath, also known as perjury or lying under oath, is a serious crime that can carry significant consequences. Understanding the implications of perjury is critical for anyone involved in a family court case.
What Exactly Is Perjury?
Perjury refers to the act of intentionally lying or providing false statements while under oath. This crime applies to court proceedings, depositions, and affidavits. Perjury laws exist to ensure the integrity of the justice system by criminalizing intentional dishonesty under oath.
To be convicted of perjury, the false statement must be made intentionally or knowingly. If an individual makes an honest mistake or misunderstands a question, this does not qualify as perjury. The false statement must also be material and relevant to the case. Factual inaccuracies that do not impact the core issues are not perjurious.
Why Is Perjury Illegal?
Perjury is illegal because it undermines the very foundation of the justice system. Court proceedings rely on witnesses providing honest and truthful testimony under oath. When individuals lie under oath, it prevents judges and juries from being able to make fair and just decisions based on facts and evidence.
Perjury skews the outcomes of cases and prevents true justice from being served. It also wastes significant time and resources as the court works to uncover the dishonesty and rectify the damage caused. For these reasons, perjury laws aim to deter individuals from providing false testimony in legal proceedings.
What Are The Penalties For Perjury In Family Court?
Committing perjury in family court carries severe criminal penalties, just as perjury does in any other court context. While the specific punishments vary between states, perjury is generally prosecuted as a felony offense.
Typical penalties for perjury include:
- Prison time – Many states impose prison sentences ranging from 1 to 5 years per perjury count. However, certain aggravated circumstances can result in sentences of up to 15 years.
- Fines – In addition to incarceration, those convicted of perjury may face fines up to $10,000 or more depending on the jurisdiction.
- Probation – Courts may sentence individuals to strict probation lasting several years rather than jail time or in conjunction with a shortened prison sentence.
In addition to criminal penalties, perjury in family court can also impact the case itself. Judges may strike parts of the testimony, rule against the dishonest individual, or even overturn the entire case outcome.
How Is Perjury Discovered And Prosecuted?
Several factors make the discovery and prosecution of perjury challenging in family court cases:
- He said/she said nature of testimony
- Lack of definitive evidence
- Delayed timeline
- Reluctance to pursue charges against ex-spouse
Despite these difficulties, there are several ways perjury may still come to light:
- Opposing counsel – During cross-examination, thorough questioning by opposing lawyers can reveal contradictions and falsehoods in testimony.
- Investigation – Judges may order investigations if serious concerns arise regarding potential perjury.
- Third-party records – Financial, phone, employment records can conflict with and disprove statements made under oath.
- Tip-offs – Ex-spouses, family members, friends may notify the court or authorities regarding known lies told under oath.
If credible evidence of perjury arises, prosecutors can choose to pursue criminal charges separately from the family court case. The standard of evidence for a criminal perjury trial is higher than a civil family court case.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Perjury?
If you suspect the other party has or may commit perjury in your family court case, some recommended steps include:
- Consult your attorney – Your lawyer can advise you on the best response based on the situation.
- Gather evidence – Collect and document any evidence that contradicts or disproves the potentially false testimony.
- File a perjury complaint – You can request the court formally investigate by filing a complaint.
- Avoid retaliating – As frustrating as dishonesty may be, avoid making your own false statements in response.
- Focus on your own testimony – State the facts clearly and truthfully to allow the inconsistencies to speak for themselves.
While perjury certainly poses challenges, maintaining your own integrity remains critical. Honesty and transparency are still the soundest legal and ethical strategies.
How Can You Avoid Committing Perjury?
The stakes are extremely high, so how can you steer clear of perjury in your family court case? Consider these tips:
- Tell the truth– As obvious as it sounds, simply responding to all questions honestly and accurately is the best way to avoid perjury.
- Review records– Refresh your memory by reviewing relevant records and documents before testifying or submitting an affidavit.
- Admit uncertainty– If you don’t clearly recall specific details, say so. Don’t speculate or exaggerate.
- Consult your lawyer– Discuss testimony preparation with your attorney to identify potential pitfalls.
- Pause before responding– Take a moment to ensure you understand each question before answering during testimony.
- Correct mistakes– If you realize you misspoke, correct the record as soon as possible.
Being truthful, thorough and precise in your testimony and declarations is critical for achieving the fairest outcome in your case while also avoiding perjury charges.
Consequences For Perjury Go Beyond The Court Case
While perjury in family court can impact the legal judgment, the repercussions often extend far beyond the case itself:
- Loss of trust and credibility – Once caught lying under oath, rebuilding trust with your ex-spouse and family becomes far more difficult.
- Damage to your reputation – Word of perjury charges can spread quickly among friends, family, colleagues and the community, hurting your reputation.
- Effects on children – Children inevitably suffer when a parent engages in dishonest behavior and faces prosecution for perjury.
- Financial costs – The expenses of fines, legal fees, and lost income during incarceration impose a significant financial burden.
- Stress and uncertainty – The threat of criminal prosecution creates immense emotional strain, affecting mental health and relationships.
In light of the widespread consequences, remaining truthful avoids considerable harm to yourself, your family, and your future.
Perjury in family court cases may feel tempting to some individuals desperate for a favorable judgment. However, providing false testimony under oath is a felony offense with steep criminal penalties and lasting damage. Not only does perjury undermine the pursuit of justice, it hurts innocent family members and can destroy the perjurer’s own credibility, finances, and future. Maintaining rigorous honesty remains the only sound legal and ethical path forward. With so much at stake, understanding the severe repercussions of perjury may help deter individuals from resorting to dishonesty under oath.
Q: What if I lie under oath by mistake or misunderstanding?
A: Unintentional false statements generally do not qualify as perjury. Perjury requires willfully making statements you know to be untrue. However, you should correct any mistaken testimony as soon as you realize the error.
Q: Can I get in trouble for suspecting perjury but not reporting it?
A: Generally, you cannot get in legal trouble simply for suspecting perjury. However, some states require professionals like attorneys and law enforcement to report suspected perjury. Otherwise, reporting perjury is optional, not legally mandated.
Q: What should I do if I lied under oath and now regret it?
A: First, consult an attorney. They may advise correcting the record to mitigate damages. Otherwise, if charges get pursued, admitting the lie, expressing remorse, and cooperating with prosecutors may help secure a favorable plea bargain.
Q: Is perjury ever justified if it helps me keep custody of my kids?
A: The ends never justify the means. Perjury is unethical and illegal regardless of circumstances. Truth and integrity should not get sacrificed for an outcome you desire. There are legal ways to build your custody case without resorting to dishonesty.
Q: What happens if I admit to perjury right before the judge issues a ruling?
A: Admitting perjury, even at the last minute, can avoid liability in some cases since charges rely on willfully maintaining lies under oath. However, late admission still creates problems for the court in issuing a just ruling. So consequences are still possible.