Couples going through divorce often face contentious issues that may lead one, or both, to engage in spiteful behavior. One spouse may feel the desire to spread lies or post false, negative statements about the other online. However, these actions may result in legal consequences which can affect rulings on child custody, division of property, or alimony.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is any intentional written or spoken false communication that is harmful to a person’s reputation. Defamation that is spoken is called slander, whereas defamation that is written is referred to as libel. A person is harmed when the communication causes a decrease in respect, regard, or confidence in which they are held or when the communication causes others to have disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against the person. In addition to meeting this definition, a defamatory statement is one that satisfies the following elements:
Non-privileged: The statement must be a non-privileged communication to a third party, meaning that the person communicating the information did not have consent or obligation to report the information.
False: The statement must be false. True statements that are hurtful will not be considered defamation.
Specific: The statement must reference the subject directly. It is not enough to allude to someone’s identity.
Negligently Communicated: The statement must, at a minimum, have been negligently communicated. Public figures, such as celebrities or people elected to public office, must prove actual malice whereas private figures must only prove negligence.
Caused Injury: The statement must have caused the subject an actual injury.
The statute of limitations for defamation causes in Maryland is one year. Anyone wishing to bring a defamation suit for libel or slander in Maryland must do so within one year to avoid losing their right to a civil remedy.
Consequences for Defamation
It can be particularly difficult to prove defamation when going through a divorce because courts are aware of the emotions often involved. However, if found guilty of defamation, Maryland defendants may be required to compensate plaintiffs for actual damages. This includes compensation for lost wages or lost earning capacity, any resulting out-of-pocket expenses such as medical bills, and any non-quantifiable injuries such as shame or hurt feelings. Those guilty of defamation may also be liable for punitive damages if their behavior was particularly egregious.
Those who engage in defamatory actions during a divorce may also face non-legal consequences such as trauma to the children of the marriage and prevention of future negotiation or reconciliation with the other spouse. If you defame your spouse, they may even use your actions to prove that you should not get custody of the children or receive certain assets.
Towson Divorce Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Guide Individuals Through All Aspects of Divorce
Towson divorce lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC understand what a difficult time it can be for those going through a divorce. We help resolve your legal issues by providing sensitive and practical legal counsel. Our experienced attorneys can help guide you through all aspects of divorce so that you can move forward. Call us at 443-589-0150 or contact us online to schedule a free, confidential consultation. Our offices are conveniently located in Hunt Valley and Towson, and we represent clients throughout Maryland, including Hunt Valley, Towson, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Columbia, Westminster, Essex, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.