Laws on Falsifying Divorce Documents
By Beverly Bird
Life is full of temptations. When you're going through a divorce, you may feel like you're under assault and on the verge of losing everything, so it might be tempting to fudge a few things here and there on your documents. If you give in to that temptation and try to shield assets or income, however, you could stand to lose even more.
Penalty of Perjury
Perjury is basically lying -- either verbally or on paper -- in relation to a legal proceeding. Virtually every document you must submit to the court as part of your divorce proceedings requires that you sign the document under penalty of perjury. Therefore, if the information contained in the document is false, you've committed perjury, which can have both civil and criminal ramifications. Most likely, it will affect your divorce proceedings if you're found out -- and not in a good way.
Effect of Divorce Proceedings
If your spouse is determined enough, she will probably be able to prove to the court that you lied, or at the very least, show that there's a strong possibility that you weren't completely honest. For example, if you earned $150,000 last year but you have your own business -- with records that may not prove or disprove it -- you might be tempted to tell the court you earned $100,000 instead, thinking that this will reduce your alimony or child support obligation. The problem is that even without pay stubs or W-2 forms, a paper trail probably exists of your true earnings. In an active litigation, your spouse is permitted to subpoena third parties for any documentation or information that's material to your case -- and could affect its outcome. She can legally hire a forensic accountant to pore over your business books. She can also subpoena banks and lenders for applications that you may have submitted for loans in which you most likely cited your true income. She can subpoena copies of your monthly bills and show that they all add up to more than you reportedly earn.
If your ex turns over to the court any information she finds -- and you can bet that she probably will – it may result in civil sanctions against you and have a harsh impact on the proceedings. For example, if you failed to mention one or more assets on your financial affidavit, which is required in most states, the judge typically has the power to award the asset to your ex rather than split its value between the two of you. In many states, you may also be fined. Furthermore, the judge may then doubt all your other assertions as well. If you're relying on him to decide your fate in a divorce trial, you probably don't want him taking your every word with a grain of salt. In California, the court can even set aside some orders it has already made, vacating them and issuing new ones if falsifications come to light after a divorce decree is final.
Criminal charges for committing perjury are generally rare in divorce litigation, but this doesn't mean they can't happen. It varies somewhat by state, and the laws of most states at least provide for the possibility. If your ex goes to your county's district attorney or prosecuting attorney to press charges, law enforcement may agree to do so if their staff has sufficient time to pursue the charges. Jail time is a possibility, but realistically, a criminal court might only order probation.
- Rice Law: Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law
- Miles Mason Family Law Group: Hidden Income and Hidden Assets in Tennessee Divorces
- Law Firm of Thurman W. Arnold III: What Are My Rights When I Believe My Spouse Committed Fraud in Their Income and Expense Statement?
- Conner & Lindamood: Unequal Distribution of Wealth: When a Spouse Hides Money in a Divorce
- High Conflict Institute: Lying in Family Court
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.