Anytime a marriage ends, there are bound to be some intense emotions. You may be feeling, disappointed, angry, bitter. You may also be thinking that you’re going to make your spouse “pay” for what is happening. With all this going on, it’s not surprising that divorce sometimes brings out the worst in people—including the desire to lie to the judge. We can understand why someone might feel like doing this. But it is always a bad idea. So let’s learn about what perjury in divorce is, why people do it, and what to do if you think your spouse is lying in family court.
What Is Perjury in Texas?
Perjury is covered in Chapter 37 of the Texas Penal Code. The law states in part that a person commits perjury when he or she “makes a false statement under oath or swears to the truth of a false statement previously made” with the intent to deceive the court.
There’s a scene that appears in almost every movie or TV show with a trial. The witness swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” From that moment on, the witness is under oath and must not knowingly make false statements.
However, perjury can be more subtle. Someone also can commit perjury by withholding information. For example, if your spouse does not disclose a secretly purchased vacation home, he or she again could be charged with perjury.
What Happens if You Lie in a Divorce in Texas?
The consequences of lying under oath can be significant. If you are convicted of perjury in Texas, it is a Class A misdemeanor. The penalty is up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
If a person makes false statements during an official judicial proceeding and the statements impacted the outcome of the case, it may be considered aggravated perjury. The penalty is two to 10 years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
A family court judge has limited power to punish someone for perjury. However, the judge could forward the case to a prosecutor for criminal enforcement. The judge could also find the person in contempt of court. Read our recent blog on contempt of court consequences.
If your spouse’s deceit doesn’t warrant a criminal investigation, the judge could still find your spouse in contempt of court. This could result in fines or time in jail.
Perjury in Divorce Can Also Occur in Signed Documents
Divorces are handled in a family court, and you may know that most cases do not end up going to trial. So it’s important to know that every court document you submit as part of the proceedings can be considered testimony. If you knowingly submit documents that are wrong or incomplete, it could be considered lying under oath.
The seriousness of this was demonstrated in the case of Habel vs. State of Alabama. In the midst of the child custody proceedings, Sara Habel accused her husband of sexually abusing their children. She was later convicted of perjury. Habel appealed the decision, arguing that the sworn affidavit she had signed was not part of the official court proceedings. The court ruled against her and upheld the conviction, and she was ordered to serve jail time.
Why do People Commit Perjury in Divorce?
People have many reasons for lying under oath, and some of them are not that bad. For example, a spouse may want more time with his or her children. Or the spouse may be hoping to get more child support payments.
Of course, most of the time, the deception is more self-serving. Spouses will lie to protect finances and property. Someone who has committed adultery also may try to conceal it.
What Are Some Ways People Commit Perjury In Divorce?
The tactic a person uses depends upon his or her objective. For example, a husband may take a lower-paying job to avoid paying more child support or spousal support. The spouse may claim they had no control over the circumstances.
People also may be tempted to hide assets from their spouses. For example, a spouse may “sell” the boat to a friend or relative, with the intention of buying it back later.
And as we have seen, child custody cases are particularly vulnerable to false statements. One spouse may accuse the other of child abuse and/or child neglect, domestic violence, or drug addiction. While these accusations usually can be disproven, it takes additional work. And there is always the chance that the dishonest spouse may be able to get away with the lies.
People May Accidentally Give False Testimony
Many family court judges are very experienced. They are quite good at “sniffing out” lies and inconsistencies in a story. They also will quickly challenge someone who they think is committing perjury.
In addition, people do forget things. It isn’t unreasonable for someone to forget about a small property or bank account they acquired many years ago. The stress of a divorce can add to the possibility of someone getting their facts wrong.
It’s also possible someone has so much wealth that they are not fully aware of all their assets. Read our blog about high net worth divorce in Texas. If you’re on good terms with your spouse, you may give the person a chance to correct the falsehood. In these situations, the judge also is likely to overlook the error.
What If You Suspect Your Spouse Is Intentionally Lying?
However, you should not count on the judge to represent you. If you believe your spouse is committing perjury with the intent to deceive, you must act quickly. It will not be enough just to tell the court that your spouse is lying; you must be able to present evidence to support your position. What’s more, it has to be solid evidence, not hearsay or “He said, she said.”
In addition, you’ll need to make a strong case that the perjury was not an accident. For example, “Her social media is filled with pictures of her new car, so there is no way she could forget that she has it.” Or perhaps you are accused of ignoring the children when you have many pictures showing all of you together having fun.
If your spouse shows no signs of wanting to fix a deception, you need to be prepared to fight. In cases like this, we strongly encourage you to consider hiring an experienced family law attorney. This person can provide you helpful legal advice on the most effective way to present your case.
What If I Find Out My Ex Committed Perjury After the Divorce?
If you find out after the divorce is finalized that your ex lied under oath, you need to move as quickly as possible. The first thing to consider is: What impact can this have on the overall outcome of your case? So if you discover that your ex had a small fishing boat, you have to decide if it is worth the trouble to contest it.
On the other hand, if the deception is significant, it certainly may be worth going back to court. You may be entitled to significant compensation; in addition, the court may hold your ex in contempt. As before, you will need to be able to provide concrete evidence to prove the perjury. This is another situation where the experience of a good family law attorney can be very helpful.
Why YOU Shouldn’t Lie in a Divorce Case
We have already seen that the legal consequences for lying under oath can be quite significant. Texas family court judges have been known to abruptly end a divorce proceeding and order a dishonest spouse to be arrested.
Here’s another thing to consider: If the judge determines that you have decided to not tell the truth—or even suspects that you are committing perjury—it could hurt your divorce case. From that point on, everything you say and present in the family court could be tainted. What’s more, the judge may be less inclined to settle the divorce in the terms that you had hoped for.
In short, a single act of false testimony could jeopardize your entire divorce settlement, including the division of assets and arrangements for child support and child custody. It’s an incredible risk to take—and usually, not worth it.
Family Law Attorneys Who Can Help You Fight Back Against Perjury in Divorce
Dealing with a dishonest spouse can be an exhausting experience. But even if your divorce is relatively harmonious, things can still get complicated. The family law attorneys of The Maynard Law Firm, PLLC, have years of experience handling a wide range of divorce and custody cases.
We will guide you through the legal process with knowledge, and compassion so that you can successfully end this chapter of your life and move on with the next. For a free case consultation, contact us today or call 817-335-9600.