What Happens If You Lie Under Oath In Family Court?
Definition of Perjury
Perjury is the act of intentionally lying or providing false statements while under oath in an official legal proceeding. In family court, perjury occurs when someone lies or purposefully omits pertinent information while testifying before a judge. Family court deals with sensitive issues like child custody, visitation rights, child support, and division of assets, so there are many opportunities for individuals to potentially lie under oath.
Reasons People May Lie Under Oath in Family Court
There are several reasons why individuals may feel tempted to lie under oath in family court proceedings:
Child custody battles can become extremely contentious and emotional. Parents may lie about their financial situations, living arrangements, relationships, or parenting responsibilities in hopes of swaying the judge to rule in their favor. For instance, a parent may downplay substance abuse issues or lie about their ability to provide a stable home environment.
Child Support Payments
Parents often feel resentment over paying or receiving child support. A non-custodial parent may lie about their actual income to lower their child support payment amount. Meanwhile, a custodial parent may fabricate expenses to increase the amount of child support ordered.
Division of Assets
The division of assets during a divorce can also spark bitter disputes and temptation to be dishonest. Spouses may lie about spending marital funds, hide assets, or exaggerate the value of property. These lies undermine the court’s ability to equitably divide assets.
Consequences of Lying Under Oath
Lying under oath in family court can carry serious consequences:
Criminal Perjury Charges
Intentionally providing false testimony is the crime of perjury, punishable as a felony or misdemeanor with fines and jail time.
Fines and Jail Time
If convicted of perjury, penalties can include substantial fines up to $250,000 and years in jail depending on state laws and circumstances.
Loss of Credibility with the Judge
Once caught in a lie, the judge is less likely to believe anything else that person says. Lying damages credibility for the duration of the case.
Judges can make “adverse inferences” when a witness is caught lying. For example, if a husband lies about hiding assets, the judge may assume the assets are significant.
Loss of Custody or Visitation Rights
Lying about circumstances relating to parenting or the children’s best interests can result in loss of child custody or visitation rights.
How Lies Can Be Exposed in Court
Several factors make it difficult for lies to go undetected in the legal process:
Opposing Counsel Cross-Examination
Skilled opposing lawyers adeptly question witnesses to uncover contradictions and lies.
Documents, records, emails, and other evidence that conflict with testimony will expose lies.
Technology like Emails and Text Messages
Digital records and communication often contradict false testimony.
Other witnesses may offer testimony that refutes fabricated stories.
Tips for Testifying Truthfully
Here are some tips for testifying honestly under oath:
Understand the Importance of Honesty
Keep in mind that lies undermine the court’s ability to make fair rulings for your family.
Review Your Testimony Thoroughly
Ensure you can confidently stand by your statements under intense scrutiny.
Stick to the Facts
Provide only factual accounts you can prove. Avoid speculating or exaggerating.
Admit When You Don’t Know Something
There’s no shame in honestly saying “I don’t recall” or “I’m not sure” when appropriate.
Lying under oath in family court is the serious offense of perjury. While the high stakes of custody, support, and property disputes motivate some to lie, deceptive testimony can severely backfire. Honesty and transparency are critical to achieving fair outcomes. Thoughtfully testifying with integrity leads to the best long-term resolutions.
What if I lie by omission?
Intentionally omitting relevant information is also considered perjury. Always err on the side of providing full transparency.
Can I get in trouble for mistakes or forgetting details? Occasional mistakes or lapses in memory are generally not punished as severely. But frequent “lapses” damage credibility.
What if I lie to protect my children? Lying is counterproductive if you want custody. Focus on presenting your positive attributes as a parent.
Can I take back a lie without getting in trouble? Admitting a lie early helps, but perjury is still a crime. Consult your lawyer about options.
Is it perjury to exaggerate to strengthen my case?
Yes, exaggerating facts or embellishing the truth crosses into perjury. Stick only to provable statements.