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The Problem of Perjury in Family Law Courts: Is the System Broken System?

So what is perjury?

Lying and perjury are one in the same

According to the Merriam-Webster, perjury is defined as: the voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath. This act is technically punishable under the law, under Penal Code 118 and is considered a felony in the state of California. But more than that, perjury can prevent families, children and individuals from receiving the proper justice they deserve.

How common is perjury in divorce cases?

The problem of perjury and lying is very present in divorce cases and is an act that often goes unpunished.

According to a 2010 report conducted by the Elkins Family Law Task Force, “One common problem that family law litigants face is the frustration that comes from the belief that information being presented to the court is false. While there are many situations where people remember situations differently or the information that is contested has no real relevance to the decision made by the court, intentionally false statements can have serious consequences in family law cases.”

What is the impact of perjury on divorce cases?

Perjury in family law and divorce cases especially is an accepted norm. This has had lasting effects on family court decisions, and impacted the lives of many individuals. The purpose of the court system in the United States is to provide justice for its citizens, but how can they receive justice when it is seen as acceptable to lie under oath? It is unacceptably common for fraudulent and disingenuous actions to take place in divorce and custody hearings. Perjury in divorce and custody hearings has the potential to hurt those who trust and seek real help from the system. Because of the time and money often needed to prove someone committed perjury those who most need the protection of the courts can’t afford to make sure the truth comes to light in their proceedings.

How can perjury be proven in court?

The first step to ensuring that those that perjure themselves in court are punished is by proving that they did commit perjury. These elements must be proven under California perjury law:

  • Oath: The defendant must have taken an oath, which is an affirmation that they will tell the truth.
  • Intent to make false statement: It must be proven that the defendant knew he or she was making a false statement.
  • False statement: The individual must have presented a false statement he or she knew was untrue.
  • Materiality of the statement:  The potential effect the statement could have on potential court proceedings must be reviewed by the court.

How do courts currently handle perjury in divorce cases and family law?

It is very common for courts to not pursue perjury convictions in divorce and family law beause of lack of funds or time. Many judges look the other way when perjury accusations are brought before the court because of lack of time. It is also common for lawyers to encourage perjury in divorce cases to build stronger cases and ease hearings along. The problem of perjury is prevalent because of misconduct of judges, lawyers, and individuals but also because

How should courts handle perjury in family law?

According to the 2010 report conducted by the Elkins Family Law Task Force, Judicial Council should assess the adequacy of existing civil remedies to respond to all types of perjury, oral and written.

If necessary, the Judicial Council should seek legislation to expand the type of sanctions awardable. These sanctions could include restitution or fines, not just attorney fees.

To the extent not already allowed, issue preclusion and evidentiary sanctions could be explicitly made available as remedies.

Civil sanctions for perjury could also be extended to case types and situations beyond the currently limited scenarios of false declarations of disclosure, child support, and false child abuse allegations.

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