Consequences of Libel & Slander in a Georgia Divorce Case

by Brenna Davis

Defamatory statements are untrue statements that harm a person's public image. Under Georgia law, libel is defamation in written or printed word, while slander is a defamatory statement or proclamation. Divorce cases often escalate into a cascade of allegations, and the parties may make defamatory statements about one another. Defamation can negatively affect the party making defamatory statements, and parties to a divorce should avoid making factual assertions unless they know they are true.

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Understanding Defamation

In Georgia, libel and slander lawsuits are labeled as defamation, and plaintiffs typically sue for the broad category of defamation rather than libel or slander. The truth of a statement is an absolute defense to claims of defamation. Statements that cannot be verified as either true or false -- "My husband made me feel sad" -- are not subject to defamation actions. Similarly, statements that are clearly opinion -- "I think my husband may be an alcoholic" -- are difficult to prosecute as defamation cases.

Lying in Court

Lying in court is perjury, an offense that can subject you to criminal sanctions. If you lie about your spouse, your spouse may also be able to sue you for defamation because court records are written, public records and therefore could constitute libel. The statements made in court must be defamatory statements of fact, such as, "My husband regularly beats our child," rather than statements of opinion, such as, "My child seems scared of my husband." When evidence is used to support a claim, or the person making the statement reasonably believes the statement to be true based upon evidence, proving defamation is more difficult. For example, if your child returned from your husband's house with bruises and said your husband hit her, but your husband did not actually hit her, stating that you were concerned your husband was abusing your child would not be defamation.

Effect on Divorce

Lying about your ex can negatively affect your divorce in several ways.If you are suing on a ground, such as adultery, making a false statement that your spouse committed adultery would lead to the divorce being denied on that ground. Lying is especially harmful in child custody cases. Georgia, like all states, considers the best interests of the child in making custody decisions, and state guidelines allow judges to consider a parent's moral character and willingness to foster the child's relationship with the other parent. Lying may affect the judge's assessment of you, and lying is certainly not in your child's best interests. Finally, a judge who catches you lying is less likely to believe anything else you say, harming your credibility and your case.

Defamation Lawsuits

Defamation is a civil offense, which means that the other party must sue the defamer to punish the offense. In Georgia, plaintiffs may seek damages as well as attorney's fees in slander or libel suits. The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that the statement was true. It's important to note that you can be sued for defamation even if you didn't actually commit the act. If the other party sues you, you must respond and demonstrate why the case should be dismissed in the case of statements that are not actionable such as statements that can be proven neither true nor false or why you should win in the case of statements that are true.