What Happens If You Lie Under Oath During Your Divorce Trial?

Sometimes, in order to prove themselves right or win the marriage dissolution case, spouses resort to extreme measures such as falsifying divorce documents, hiding the truth, and distorting the facts. Lying on divorce papers and during court trials is not only morally wrong but is also considered a crime according to US law.

In this article, you will find useful information on the consequences of lying about adultery in divorce or distorting facts about domestic violence, finances, or any serious matters. Besides, you can check the information on what to do if you discover that your spouse lied in court.

What Does It Mean to be Under Oath?

In simple words, being under oath is giving a legal promise that you are going to tell the court only the truth. Any person participating in a legal process must give sworn testimony, be it a petitioner, a defendant, or a witness.

Even if your divorce case does not presuppose going to court, you still must provide only true and precise facts in your paperwork. The thing is that when you fill out most of the forms, you can see “the penalty of perjury” column at the very end.

Moreover, in some states, you will have to sign the affidavit that you provide only credible information during the proceedings, even before you file the paperwork with the court. By signing the documents, you take an oath to tell the truth.

Many spouses preparing for the trials often ask the question: “What happens if you lie under oath in family court?” If you work with a lawyer, one of the first recommendations they will give you is never to tell any distorted facts to the judge. Obviously, lying under oath in family court can have very serious consequences. According to US laws, depending on the situation, a person who commits perjury, meaning tells a lie in front of a judge or in the papers, may face the following penalties:

  • Jail term
  • Fine
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Unfavorable divorce outcomes.

The severity of the penalty also depends on the state that has jurisdiction over your case. For example, in Pennsylvania, perjury is considered a third-degree felony alongside such crimes as drug possession, aggravated assault, and fraud. Being charged with perjury, a person may face up to 7 years in prison.

Is it illegal to lie under oath during a divorce? It definitely is. However, in family law cases, jail time is rarely a penalty the court resorts to. We will touch upon the consequences of breaching an oath in a divorce further in the article.  One way or another, lying to the court will seriously affect your marriage dissolution process.

Lying Under Oath Has Consequences

The divorce process often turns into a fierce battle where both sides are trying to prove themselves right, resorting to various methods that can sometimes be unethical. However, one thing you should know for sure is that in the legal domain, the end never justifies the means. Here’s what happens when you lie under oath:

  • The family court will lose trust in you

If your divorce is not amicable, it’s no surprise you would like to defend your interests no matter what, especially if the stakes are high. Nevertheless, telling a lie during the proceedings is the worst thing you can do for the divorce outcomes since the consequences of lying under oath will be serious.

First of all, it is almost impossible to embellish the facts when the second party knows the truth and can prove that you are lying. As a result, the court may view your spouse as the only person revealing the reality of things, while your evidence and proof may not be taken into account at all.

Secondly, after all, the judge is only human, and they can definitely lose trust in all your words and actions if you were caught lying. Even if you are lucky enough to avoid charges, you may never get a favorable final result and may not have any chances to appeal the court’s decision.

Finally, apart from the judge, you may also lose the trust of your lawyer, which will create further problems during your cooperation.

  • You could be charged with perjury or contempt of court

Depending on your judge and the state you are divorcing in, you may face more serious consequences than just an unfavorable divorce outcome. As we already mentioned, perjury is considered a crime in the US that leads to severe punishment.

No matter if you lie during the trial or in your documents, in both cases, you may be charged with perjury. Still, the courts prefer not to bring criminal charges against a lying person, which, however, does not exclude the possibility of getting a prison term. Moreover, family court judges cannot indict a person for perjury and, therefore, have to pass the case to the criminal court, which takes a lot of time and resources.

Instead, you may be accused of contempt of court, which is an act of dishonor towards the judge that seriously interferes the whole process. In most cases, the charged person will have to pay a considerable fine up to $1,000 or get a community sentence. However, in states like Florida or New York, you may even end up being sentenced to several months in jail. Obviously, it will also lower your chances of winning the case.

  • You can get unfavorable custody outcomes

In an attempt to get the rights over their kids, parents often resort to defaming each other, making false accusations of abuse, neglect, and so on. When dealing with a custody battle, the judge always gives priority to the best interest of the child. If one of the parents lied to the court, the judge may deem this person unscrupulous and a bad fit for certain types of custody.

Consequently, being caught lying in a custody case, you risk losing custody or getting limited or supervised visitation rights. For example, if both parents are fighting over physical custody, the party who was found to be lying won’t get the rights. Alternatively, a parent who lied to the court may be punished with a fine or community service order.

  • You will face serious financial consequences

As a rule, all the court costs are divided equally between spouses. However, sometimes, the court can order one spouse to pay the costs as a form of punishment for wrongdoings such as lying during the proceedings.

If it was uncovered that one of the parties provided untrue information, it would result in a prolonged process, which obviously incurs high costs. The judge can order the lying party to cover all the expenses.

Moreover, if you lie about your financial capabilities, it may have a devastating effect on property division or alimony allocation. For example, the judge may award a bigger share of spousal support to the second party if they find out about the first spouse breaking the oath.

  • Your divorce could drag on for longer than expected

In general, an average divorce in the US takes 1-6 months, depending on the case and the parties’ willingness to cooperate. However, if one of the spouses was found to be falsifying some facts, divorce finalization may take much more time since the court must examine the fact of lying and decide what measures to take against the person who broke the oath.

Moreover, if one of the spouses was caught lying after the case was reviewed and granted, it does not mean that they can get away with it. The divorce case will be reopened, which means that you will need to rehire a lawyer and prepare for new trials.

The Judge Finalized Our Divorce, But I Just Learned that My Spouse Lied

Accusing your spouse of lying to the court is a serious allegation, which must have solid proof so that you don’t face any charges yourself. If you have been working with a lawyer, you need to contact them again and explain the situation. They will help you to make a motion and give you some tips on how to document the fact of breaking the oath.

So, how can you prove that your spouse lied to the court?

  • Provide conflicting evidence. For example, if your spouse lied about their financial abilities, you can provide bills, checks, and tax information to the judge to show that the second party’s testimonies do not match the real state of affairs.
  • Present photo or video materials. It is also a good idea to record the conversation with your spouse where they admit the fact of lying or provide obviously contradictory facts. This corroborative evidence will have the needed effect in the court.
  • Show social media posts or messages. You should be very precise with the date, time, and circumstances under which this or that conversation happened.
  • Involve witnesses. If you have people who can confirm that your spouse was lying, ask them to sign the affidavit that you will present to the court.
  • Hire a private investigator. If you have enough time and financial resources, you can work with an expert who will gather all the evidence for you.

In general, it is not easy to reopen the case after it has been finalized; however, it is still possible if you know how to do it right. If enough evidence is provided, the effects of being lied to by a spouse on the divorce case will be rather serious. Here are your next steps after you get documented proof of the second party’s lies:

  • Contact your lawyer and get a consultation on how to reopen your settlement agreement. If you want to file a perjury case, you should let your attorney know about it as well.
  • Prepare all the evidence you have. After that, you will have to fill out a specific set of paperwork.
  • File the paperwork together with the evidential records with the court for an appeal. Alternatively, your lawyer can make a motion for a trial. Make sure that all the proof you have collected is concrete and undeniable. Also, avoid exaggerating and embellishing facts.

Wait until the judge revisits your case and reviews all the new paperwork. If there are enough facts about your spouse’s lies, the court will allow you to modify your settlement agreement. In some states, the party who intentionally broke the oath may lose a big share of their property and assets. Finally, the judge may even decide to reverse your divorce decree, and you will need to start the process over again.