When spouses separate, the issue of defamation sometimes arises. One spouse may feel that other spouse has posted untruthful comments about him or her on social media, or otherwise made written or verbal statements that cast him or her in a bad light. In some cases, a spouse may have a claim for defamation in the form of libel (written statements) or slander (spoken statements).
A claim for defamation requires you to prove that: (1) a false and defamatory statement was made; (2) the statement was about you; (3) the statement was “published” to a third party (someone other than you and your spouse); and (4) the statement resulted in damages to your reputation.
As with most legal claims, there must be some type of injury to you. In a claim for defamation, the injury must be to your reputation, typically resulting in measurable loss, such as your ability to earn income or your standing in the community.
In a libel claim (written statements), damages are presumed, regardless of monetary loss, because the written word has more permanency than the spoken word. In a slander case (spoken words), you must prove actual monetary damages.
Examples of libel include statements that: (1) a person has committed an infamous crime; (2) a person has an infectious disease; (3) a person is incompetent or dishonest in his or her trade or profession; or (4) any statement that otherwise tends to subject a person to “ridicule, contempt or disgrace”.
Examples of slander include (1) verbal accusations that a person has committed a morally offensive crime; (2) verbal allegations that harm a person in his or her trade, business, or profession; or (3) a verbal insinuation that a person has a “loathsome disease.”
Truth is a defense in all defamation actions; in other words, if the statement is true, it is not libel or slander.
In some cases, a person may have immunity from defamation claims. For instance, if the defamatory words were spoken in the context of a judicial proceeding and were related to that proceeding, the circumstances would bar a defamation claim.