Can You Sue for Defamation During Divorce Proceedings?

Divorce proceedings are a highly sensitive matter and can weigh heavily on both parties. Emotional outbursts and even physical altercations aren’t an uncommon sight. It gets worse when there are minors involved and the parents engage in child custody battles. As a result, obscene and untrue statements can be uttered against either party.

But when statements become defamatory, you can have a legal standing to pursue civil damages. You need expert attorneys specializing in family law to help determine which statements can be deemed defamatory and advise on the best way to go about it. They can also help you through alimony, property distribution, visitation, and child support battles you might have during the divorce proceedings.

Understanding Defamation

Defamation During Divorce

There are limits to what people can say without placing themselves in a legal quagmire. Any statement made by one spouse with the intention to tarnish the other one’s reputation can be considered defamatory. Authored defamatory content is referred to as libel, while verbalized defamation is known as slander. While it’s not considered a crime in most states, defamation is a tort (civil wrong). You can always sue for damages when someone tries to hurt your reputation.

How Can You Prove Defamation?

You need to have the necessary evidence before you choose to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. It’s also important to note that libel is treated as a more serious offence as compared to slander because it comes written and is assumed to be more damaging and permanent. But the defamation law recognizes the importance of free speech and utilizes the First Amendment rights to ensure that justice is equally balanced. As a result, you, as the plaintiff, will have to prove the following so your lawsuit can have legal backing:

  • The defendant drafted a statement about you.
  • The statement is untrue.
  • The statement is injurious to your reputation.
  • The statement does not fall under the privileged category.

Full Context of Defamatory Statements

A defamatory statement is considered libel when it can be shown that the defendant has revealed the untrue statement to a party other than the plaintiff. Whether it is expressed in a confined social setting, such as a banter over a few drinks or in a speech during a public function, the slanderous statement is considered published.

The statement can’t be considered defamatory if the defendant can prove it to be true. Even though statements made can be completely derogatory and vicious, if true, you can’t win any personal injury lawsuit claim over the matter. A statement can be proven to be injurious when you can show that your reputation was tainted as a result. This can happen when, for example, the company you work with terminates your contract because of the statement, or you face online harassment.

Some false statements have become socially accepted and presumed to be true but are so injurious to someone’s social image that they automatically fall under defamatory statements. Examples include falsely accusing someone of domestic violence, spreading rumours about someone having a sexually transmitted infection, or accusing someone of improper sexual conduct at the workplace. A statement has to fall under the unprivileged category to qualify as a defamatory statement. Lawmakers are solely responsible for determining which statements fall under the privileged category.

Statute of Limitations Compliance in California

You should always comply with the statute of limitations set by the state in which you reside. Though the period during which you can pursue a defamation claim may vary between states, the period for filing a claim typically falls between one to three years.

California’s deadline for filing defamation claims is one year. The statute clock begins ticking immediately after the defamatory statement is first published. A new statute of limitation is likely to begin only when the statement is revised and expressed to a new party. Therefore, it’s crucial that you obtain the right legal representation if you intend to file a defamation suit.

Where Can You File a Defamation Lawsuit in California?

Defamation During Divorce

If you intend to file a defamation lawsuit, it’s necessary that you first determine the court assigned with the jurisdiction to hear and decide your matter. The California Superior Court is authorized to handle defamation lawsuits. However, you’ll have to ensure that the suit is filed in the defendant’s county of residence.

Exceptions to The Statute of Limitations in California

As mentioned before, the statute of limitations in California typically runs for one year. But there are several instances where the clock can be paused or delayed. Some of the situations include:

  • Application of the “delayed discovery rule.” This happens when the defamatory statement takes a while to get to the plaintiff’s attention. In this case, the statement of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff gets knowledge of the matter.
  • The statute of limitation is also suspended when the defendant isn’t within the Californian state boundaries when the defamation lawsuit is filed.
  • Minors who lack the legal capacity to pursue a personal injury claim due to defamation until they become 18 years of age. From that point, they will have one year to pursue action.

What Happens If You Miss the Defamation Deadline in California?

Your lawsuit will be dismissed if you try to file a defamation lawsuit one year after the occurrence, except if you meet the statute exceptions. In addition to losing out on your court compensation, it can also negate your chances of receiving an out-of-court settlement if the defendant knows that the time is running out or has run out. It’s best to seek the services of an experienced California family law attorney to discuss the situation and select the best course of action you should take.

What Next?

As you can see, defamation lawsuits are a complex matter, and it becomes even more challenging when they occur during divorce proceedings. But it’s nothing that an expert attorney can’t handle. Your attorney will have to determine the best course of action following the suit, evaluate the defamation timeline, and inform you about what to expect after filing the lawsuit. You can then make an accurate decision on the matter.

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