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Can I Sue My Spouse for Defamation During a Divorce in Monmouth County?

Can I Sue My Spouse for Defamation During a Divorce in Monmouth County?

Someone defames you when they damage your reputation by spreading lies about you. That could devastate your reputation. Imagine the damage to your reputation and your career, for example, if you are a schoolteacher falsely accused of domestic violence

Unfortunately, defamatory claims are particularly likely to arise in a contentious divorce, especially when child custody is at stake.

Slander vs. Libel

Slander and libel and slander are the two forms of defamation:

  • Slander is defamation in spoken form; and
  • Libel is defamation in written form.

Your claim can involve both slander and libel. For example, your spouse utters a defamatory statement about you, and a newspaper or a blogger prints it. 

You need to prove four facts (“elements”) to win your defamation claim:

  1. The defendant made a false and defamatory statement about you (a false statement that tended to damage your reputation);
  2. The defendant communicated the statement to at least one other person;
  3. The defendant made the statement negligently or with “malice” (knowledge that it was false, or with reckless disregard to whether it was true or false); and
  4. You suffered harm (reputational damage is enough).

You have to prove all of these elements to win. If you are a public figure or the statement involves a matter of public concern, New Jersey law makes it more difficult for you to win.

New Jersey’s Anti-SLAPP Statute

New Jersey has an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute designed to protect people from lawsuits aimed at silencing free speech on matters of public concern. A defendant could potentially use the anti-SLAPP statute to seek dismissal of your defamation claim. An experienced lawyer can help to protect you against this possibility.

The Statute of Limitations

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations deadline for filing a defamation lawsuit is only one year after the occurrence of the defamation. This relatively short window can affect the timing of pursuing a defamation claim.

Defenses to Defamation Lawsuits

Depending on the circumstances of your claim, your spouse might qualify to assert any of the following defenses:

  • They did not make the allegedly defamatory statement. Someone else did, or no such statement was made at all.
  • The defendant did not “publish” the statement to a third party. Calling you defamatory names in a private argument does not constitute defamation, for example.
  • Truth: The statement is true. Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.
  • Opinion: The statement was an assertion of your spouse’s opinion, not a statement of fact. Stating that you are a “bad mother,” for example, is too general of a statement to constitute a statement of fact. Stating that you used cocaine in front of your toddler, by contrast, is an assertion of fact.
  • Consent: Your spouse is off the hook if, for some reason, you consented to the publication of the statement in question.
  • Privilege: Your spouse’s statement could be privileged if uttered in court or at a deposition (see below).

There are ways of countering these defenses, but they can be difficult to execute.

Remedies if You Win Your Defamation Lawsuit

If your claim succeeds, you will qualify for two different types of remedies. First, monetary damages. You might struggle to receive payment of a damages award, however, if your spouse cannot afford to pay. Nevertheless, some homeowners’ insurance and umbrella insurance policies do cover defamation liability. 
The second remedy is a public retraction of the statement. The court may order the defendant to issue a public reaction and charge them with contempt of court if they refuse to comply.

Get a Lawyer To Help With Your Lawsuit

A defamation claim in the context of divorce proceedings stands at the nexus of two complex and well-developed areas of law. That reality is going to multiply the potential issues that are likely to arise. 
A good Monmouth County lawyer can handle it, but trying to represent yourself is fraught with uncertainty. Schedule a consultation with a qualified attorney as soon as you can, especially if your divorce proceedings have already begun.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm in Red Bank. NJ at (732) 747-1882 or contact us online today.
You can also visit our law firm at 157 Broad St #111, Red Bank, NJ 07701.

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