I'm willing to bet money that you consider yourself to be an honest person. I mean, what person do you know that does not consider him or herself to be honest? Having the ability to declare yourself to be a dishonest person takes a great deal of honesty if you think about it. No, I'm reasonably sure that you think you are a pretty honest person and that you do what it takes to tell the truth even amid difficult circumstances. Lying is not something that you are a fan of in even misleading others slightly is enough to cause your moral compass to spin.
With that said, I can tell you that as a family law attorney, I have certainly seen people lie in court before. Whether or not I knew something was a lie or whether or not the judge knew something was a lie, that goes without saying that lying does happen in court. Our whole judicial system is based on truth, and fact-finders like judges can determine outcomes of cases based on objective truth. This is why there is so much of an emphasis in our system of law on telling the truth and being able to rely upon others to tell the truth, as well.
When I talk to new clients of our law office, I am never surprised to hear anymore that an opposing party is a dishonest person. All I can do when I hear something like this is to smile and nod my head. After all, I don't know if the client's spouse or Co-parent is dishonest in reality; all that matters is that the person I am speaking to at that time considers their spouse to be. With this information in mind, I will often go into family law cases suspecting that the opposing party will do whatever it takes to succeed. Although you and I would never consider lying to a judge, many people out there would certainly be willing to do so if the circumstances called for it.
What can you do if you find yourself in a circumstance where your spouse or Co-parent is known to be dishonest or at least is willing to bend the truth on occasion? Should that stop you from proceeding with the family law case? In today's blog post, I would like to talk to you about what it means to lie in family court. What are the circumstances in which someone may lie in court, and what can happen to you or an opposing party if it is determined that you have lied while placed under oath?
Just about everyone reading this blog post understands that family law cases can be quite emotional. What makes family law cases especially difficult in terms of the truth is that your perception of a situation that occurred in the past may be completely different than your opposing party's perception of that same event. As a result, but the truth is may be difficult to determine. Finding objective truth in a family law case can be even more difficult because both of you may have certain elements of truth in your positions and may have certain elements of fiction or partial truth.
Being held in contempt of court for lying under oath
if you are in court and are expected to present testimony to a judge, he will be placed under oath. The nature of the oath you take may vary slightly from court to court and from judge to judge. Still, the gist of the oath is to make you aware that you are swearing to that judge that the statements you make in court will be truthful to the best of your knowledge and that you will not purposely mislead anyone with false statements. Once you affirm that you will tell the truth, then it is expected that you will be factual with your statements to the greatest extent possible. You should not present assumptions or vague recollections as the truth.
If a family court judge determines that you have lied under oath, then the best remedy they can utilize in that scenario is holding you in contempt of court. If you are attempting to conceal the truth or to be evasive in your answers, then you are not respecting the court, and that sort of conduct is significantly frowned upon by judges. Courts could hold a person in contempt if they violate a court order either inside the courtroom or elsewhere. Courts must do so in that their orders need to be respected for the results of any proceeding to have legitimacy moving forward.
Lying under oath is also referred to in the legal world as perjury. Perjury is a criminal offense, and a Criminal Court indicts you for having lied under oath. This will not stop the family court judge in your case from punishing you, as well. However, keep in mind that it is doubtful that the District Attorney would seek to press charges against you for having lied under oath in Harris County and the surrounding counties in Texas. This isn't me making a declaratory legal statement, but making a judgment call based on my years as an attorney. I cannot recall any person who has lied under oath in a family court having been prosecuted for having done so.
The reason why most district attorneys do not seem interested in pressing charges 4 lying under oath is that perjury is generally speaking difficult to prove as far as crimes are concerned in that local prosecutors in our area seemed to prefer to utilize their time and resources to prosecute crimes where it is more likely that the state will win. Therefore, when you have a situation where family court judges stand as probably the most likely source of justice when it comes to lies being told in court, you have to consider their punishments as the most realistic for you or your opposing party if either of you were to be dishonest while testifying.
What could result after a divorce case if it is determined that you have lied under oath?
Lying to a judge is one thing, but lying to a judge and then thinking that you got away with it is a completely different subject. How many times in life have we done something wrong, not owned up to it, and then allowed time to pass, thinking that we have likely gotten away with whatever offense we have committed? How often do we find that just when we think we're in the clear about a particular offense that we suddenly have to deal with the consequences? Theoretically, this could be the reality you face regarding your divorce or child custody case in Texas.
For example, suppose that you lied in a divorce trial, and that lie prevented your spouse from pursuing their case in full. Whatever lie you told severely hurt your spouse's case and materially and substantially impacted the judgments made by the judge after your trial. In that case, your ex-spouse may be able to come back in an attempt to overturn the results of your trial after a final judgment has been reached. For example, your ex-spouse may be able to file an appeal, motion for a new trial, or seek to attack the judgment within six months of the conclusion of your divorce case.
The judgment will still be final, and you all must live up to the terms of your divorce during the pendency of any post-divorce legal action. However, it could be determined that fraud was committed against the court, and in that case, the divorce could be thrown out, causing you all to need to go back and retry your case or at least renegotiate a settlement. If this is a situation that you find yourself in, you should speak to an attorney knowledgeable in both family law and in filing post-judgment actions. Determining whether or not fraud has occurred is the key to any legal suit of this nature.
From where I sit, if you determine that your spouse has lied, importantly, within six months of your judge signing the final decree of divorce, file emotion with the family court seeking to have that judgment thrown out. There may be ways to perform a similar action after six months have elapsed, but doing so may require filing an independent lawsuit. The specific legal requirements of these lawsuits go beyond the scope of what we are discussing in today's blog post, so I would very much recommend speaking to one of our attorneys about the possibility of filing suit in this way.
What duties does your attorney have to the court to prevent perjury from occurring?
In addition to the responsibilities owed to you as a client, your attorney also owes duties to the court. One of the main responsibilities of an attorney in a hearing or a trial is to prevent false testimony or evidence from being presented. This duty is balanced with the duty intended to keep all communications between the two of you private and confidential. This is not a huge ordeal in most circumstances, and an attorney can balance these twin responsibilities. If you were to decide to tell a lie in court, then your attorney would need to decide whether or not to come forward with information to ensure that your false testimony does not go into the record.
Your attorney would be able to reveal information that they believe is necessary to prevent or fix a problem created by your false or misleading testimony in court. Even before going to these lengths, your attorney would speak with you privately if they knew your intent to present misleading or untrue testimony in court. If your attorney has strong reason to believe that you will present false testimony, then the lawyer must make that known to the judge in advance.
Your lawyer has a duty to the court that is as important as their duty to you as far as representation is concerned. Keep in mind that attorneys understand that they will go before that judge long after your divorce or child custody case has come to an end. The lawyer will also understand that it is far more likely that they will be held accountable for allowing you to present false testimony than you are criminally prosecuted for doing so. This should offer your attorney even more cause to prevent you from presenting false testimony. If you present false testimony, it is up to your attorney to make the court aware of that.
Your credibility is important in a family law case.
In reality, the chances of your case going before a judge for a contested hearing or trial are pretty slim. Family law attorneys find themselves in court for hearings and other proceedings but rarely are they there for a trial. It is much more likely that your family law case will settle in mediation than go all the way to court. If this is the case, then your opportunity to present testimony to a judge will be limited. Therefore, we should not put the cart before the horse in terms of assuming that you will be in court in that your testimony under oath will be taken.
However, we need to discuss this topic because if you find yourself in court, then all sorts of results can occur. Family law cases are incredibly emotional and can be quite contentious. The odds are that if you make your way to a family court, then numerous attempts to settle and otherwise negotiate your way through your case have failed. This level of frustration you may have with your circumstances, and your opposing party could lead you to go to any means necessary to win your case. You may not be a dishonest person, but you may be willing to make an exception under this one circumstance.
Given the high stakes of a family law case, I cannot recommend enough how it is important to listen to your attorney's counsel and only provide honest testimony in court. I'm not even trying to make an ethical play to your better judgment, but rather, I am making a practical pitch to your willingness to participate in a process that awards honesty over falsehoods. So much of a family law case is circumstantial and based on the events of your life. In many ways, the family court judge is trying to apply their judgment 2 what took place in your life discussed in a hearing or trial.
If a judge cannot feel comfortable believing you in your rendition of certain events, then it is likely that they will be unlikely to believe you or find you credible in other regards as well. This is a huge detriment to your case and can impact the final judgment that the court ultimately makes. You may be surprised at how showing respect, telling the truth, and doing basic things like this while in front of the judge can sway a judge to make rulings in your favor. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of testifying in front of a judge, please work with your attorney on building confidence and developing a strategy on how to approach this important topic.
Remember that your family law case will be centered around what is in the best interest of your children. This is a determination that allows a judge to consider multiple factors, including your ability to act as a good role model for your kids. If you choose to tell a lie in court, the judge may not hold you formally accountable for it. As I said earlier, lies happen all the time in family court. However, they can certainly take those lies into account in coming up with their final orders on your case. Even if the truth hurts your case, it is best to tell the truth anyway. Not only have you sworn an oath to do so, but truth-telling is a lesson that you can pass down to your children that will impact them far beyond the reaches of a divorce or child custody case.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post; please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and the services that our law office can provide to you and your family.