Things can get pretty heated when a marriage is about to end. Emotions run high and communication can break down quickly. Depending on the circumstances, it’s easy to feel a lot of anger, betrayal, and frustration toward your soon-to-be-ex—and vice-versa.
If things get contentious, whether over asset distribution, custody, or infidelity, people often start to vent their frustrations and say things that are probably best left unsaid—or things that are outright lies. Sometimes, statements made during the separation and divorce proceedings can be so bad that they have real consequences, whether they were truthful or not.
Regardless of the status of your divorce, it’s painful to have your spouse say horrible things about you, especially if they’re spreading lies about your character. It’s even worse if what they’re saying affects your work or personal life. After all, what if your ex said something to your boss that was bad enough to affect your job security? Or what if they said something to a friend that made them question the friendship?
If their statements are untrue, your ex could be committing libel or slander, both types of defamation. But what can you do if your former partner is taking shots at you during the divorce? Can you sue your ex for defamation of character in North Carolina while the divorce case plays out? Here’s what you need to know.
People can have their own opinions. As Americans, our free speech is a protected right. However, free speech does not protect people who make false statements and present them as fact. If your ex says something about you that isn’t true, and that statement is damaging to your reputation, then they may be guilty of defamation.
There are two types of defamation. Libel is written defamation, whether in a letter, a text message, or any other written form. Slander is spoken defamation. If the statement was made to someone directly or recorded, that would be defined as slander.
Defamation is more than just a simple lie. It must be intentional and the harm it causes must be proven. That’s why it can be difficult to sue someone for defamation, even if you’re justified in doing so.
The idea of defamation is simple, but the burden of proof is high, and for good reason. People shouldn’t be hauled into court every time they say something unflattering about someone. To sue a person for defamation, you have to be able to prove that:
Once you meet these requirements and file suit, it’s up to your ex to defend themselves. This is why you must prove that all of these factors apply—wrongful accusations not only take up the court’s time, but they can be extremely expensive and damaging.
In the courtroom, statements cannot be used in defamation claims. This means that if your ex makes defamatory statements during the litigation process of your divorce, they can’t be charged with slander.
With that said, there is a legal obligation to tell the truth in the courtroom, and anyone who intentionally makes false statements under oath may be charged with perjury. If something your ex says in court is a lie, you will need to prove it in order for them to face consequences.
However, claims that are made outside the courtroom, to another party, such as a potential employer, a teacher, or a friend, could constitute defamation. If your ex is damaging your character and could be costing you opportunities or relationships, you may need to act.
You have one year to sue for defamation in North Carolina. It’s important to discuss this possibility with your attorney and get their take on it. In many cases, it’s simply not worth the time, money, and effort to sue for defamation. When your reputation is at stake, however, it can be hard to just sit back and watch your ex trash you.
Obviously, you have the final decision on whether or not to sue for defamation. Just understand that it will be a separate issue from the divorce itself and will not involve statements made in the courtroom. Don’t sue for defamation to “get back” at your spouse. You should only consider a lawsuit if the false statements have been truly damaging and should entitle you to compensation.
Usually, people lie under oath because they’re trying to accomplish a specific goal. Very few people are vindictive enough to risk perjury just to get back at their ex-spouse (although it has been known to happen).
People lie in divorce cases for a couple of reasons. They might lie about their financial situation or intentionally manipulate their employment record by quitting a higher-paying job and taking a lower-paying one temporarily to ensure that they will need to pay less in alimony or child support.
The good news is that most judges aren’t fooled by these shady tactics. They have been through many dramatic divorce cases and know every trick in the book. With that said, some people are extremely good at lying and can fool even the most experienced judges.
You have a few options if your former partner makes false claims on official documents or makes false statements in court. You could bring the matter to them privately and let them know that you are aware they lied. That way, they have a chance to make things right and face fewer consequences. If you want to try to keep things civil, this is probably the best option.
It usually doesn’t serve you to “stir the pot” unless you have to. Revenge can feel satisfying in the short term, but making the relationship between you and your ex even worse doesn’t help the process to move along. It could also affect your children’s well-being.
However, if your ex refuses to acknowledge that they lied, you may need to bring the matter up with the judge. You’ll need proof that your ex lied under oath, and the judge will take it from there. There can be severe consequences for perjury.
When you’re dealing with someone who is angry, vindictive, and trying to damage your reputation, you have to proceed carefully. You don’t want to make the situation worse for yourself by rising to the bait. Talk with your attorney if your ex is telling lies about you and find out what they recommend.
If you have children, then you know that the divorce will affect them in some way. That can’t be helped, but your actions during the proceedings can go a long way toward easing the transition for them. If you and your ex start to fight, try to be the bigger person, take a deep breath, and step back when you need to.
It’s never pretty to see former spouses take shots at each other. Sometimes, you can’t protect your children from what they’ll hear. It’s impossible to control what your ex will say or do in their presence. Just remember that being as civil as you can during the process will reflect well on you in court and might help in matters like custody.
Always put your children first!
Getting divorced takes time. In North Carolina, you must live separately for one year before you can file for an absolute divorce. This waiting period is non-negotiable but gives separating spouses time to discuss terms if they’re able to do so amicably.
If your ex is already making nasty (even if not defamatory) statements about you and expressing negative opinions about your character, then you’re probably past the point where it would be possible to settle your divorce case outside of the courtroom. Mediation is always the best option for distributing assets and working out custody and support arrangements, but that isn’t always possible.
When you’re past the point of civility with your former spouse, your case will almost certainly need to be settled through litigation in court. It is essential to find an experienced North Carolina divorce attorney to advocate for you and represent you in court. They will also help you to decide if suing for defamation is worth it and help you get the compensation you deserve.
At Gailor Hunt, our experienced North Carolina family law attorneys can evaluate your case and give you recommendations on how best to proceed. It’s a good idea to call our Raleigh divorce law office as soon as possible, to ensure that you take all the proper steps toward freedom and a favorable divorce settlement and avoid mistakes that could cost you. To speak with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, call us today at 919-367-1512.