What happens if you get caught lying in family court?

I’ve been a divorce and family law attorney for 23 years and gone back and forth over the years on my opinion of how the courts feel about and how they treat lying.

  1. At this point in my career, I think the most accurate way to answer your question is this way: judges have to go out of their way in hearings and trials to wear a poker face. It is their job to be and appear impartial in the course of the proceedings. People who are not aware of this often perceive the judge’s impartiality and the outward manifestation of such to be apathy and indifference. This is something that even I, an attorney, would perceive, so I don’t blame you if you had similar feelings. But keep this in mind when you’re in court, so you don’t mistake the judge’s professional detachment and impartiality for inattention or being duped.
  2. I’m a little ashamed for believing in the past that judges care so little about the divorce and other domestic relations cases that come before them. But just a little ashamed because:
    • While some judges care more than I gave them credit for, the fact remains that judges generally hate divorce and domestic relations cases. Divorce cases are often extremely acrimonious and are often characterized by emotional outbursts and, frankly, a lot of irrelevant information. It is not surprising that judges become jaded quickly with divorce and domestic relations cases and, as a consequence, often tune out much of what is said and presented to them. I once spoke to a retired judge on this very subject. When I asked him, “How much went in one ear and out the other in divorce cases?,” I was shocked but grateful for his candid response: “Oh,” he said, “about 50%.”
    • So one of the best ways you can bolster your credibility with the judge is to dispense with the melodrama, be very businesslike in your presentation of your arguments, stick to the facts you can verifiably prove or for which you can make very persuasive compelling arguments. Do not go into court believing that the judge need only hear your sincere voice to be persuaded that every word that falls from your lips is true and that every word from your spouse ( including “and” and “the”[1]) is a lie.
  1. Even when the judge catches your spouse in a lie, your judge will weigh the seriousness of the lie in determining how the judge will react to the lie. Perjury is both contempt of court and a criminal act, so the judge in your divorce case can sanction and jail you for perjury, and you can also be criminally prosecuted for perjury, if you committed perjury.
    • Not every lie told to a judge or in court is perjury, by the way. Perjury is defined as “The act or an instance of a person’s deliberately making material false or misleading statements while under oath.” (Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999). St. Paul MN: West Group. p. 1160).
    • If, for example, your spouse is late in arriving the court and lies by claiming that he or she had a flat tire, the court will probably not lock your spouse up for contempt of court. The judge may (and likely will), however, take note of the fact that your spouse was willing to lie over such a small matter. And many judges will conclude that if you are willing to lie about small things, you may be willing to lie about big things. Don’t lie. It’s wrong. Even if you believe you can get away with lying, it’s wrong. If being morally upstanding is not reason enough for you to tell the truth, remember that once your credibility is called into question or destroyed, it will often not matter whether you tell the truth thereafter. See The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the court believes you’re a liar, then it may believe that every thing you say is a lie or at least cannot be trusted to be true.

[1] Hat tip to Dorothy Parker

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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