He/She Defamed Me; What Can I Do?

Divorce doesn't have to be nasty. It's certainly difficult and emotional (as it should be), but it doesn't have to devolve in to a mud-throwing fest. 

In fact, we as attorneys work hard to keep things from getting muddy. It almost never helps anyone, and it almost always ends up costing more money.

Sometimes, though, no matter how hard you try, someone takes things too far. People say things that are untrue to family and friends and (in our day and age) Facebook. They know these things are untrue, but they say them anyway just to hurt and intimidate.

These lies will come from soon-to-be-ex spouses, but more often than not, they come from new girlfriends or boyfriends. How this is a good idea, I'm not sure, but it happens.

Situations like this very often amount to defamation. Defamation is, essentially, publicly telling lies about someone when you know they're lies in order to hurt someone's reputation.

How Should I Handle The Situation?

There are a few options to deal with these defamation situations. Let me go over a few options.

1. Sue for defamation.

Many people's first reaction is to sue for defamation. I'm a lawyer. I like to sue things. I get the impulse. Usually, however, this is not a great option. First, suing for defamation is expensive. An attorney will charge you by the hour for the case, and the bill will go high very quickly. Second, defamation cases take a long time and are difficult to win. Third, even if you do win, you have to prove some sort of economic damage to get money, which is very, very difficult to do (you would probably need to hire an expert to talk about damages, and those experts are expensive).

2. Call the police and report whoever is defaming you for harassment.

Very often, when people defame others, they also harass them. They send multiple threatening emails and texts. They call all the time. It all seems to be part of a package. If this is the case, take those calls, emails, texts, whatever to the police and try to have the person charged with harassment. This works surprisingly well, and when charges are filed, or the cops call the defamer to discuss what's going on, the defamation magically stops.

3. Use your evidence of defamation in your divorce case.

Judges do not like it when parents defame each other, or when their boyfriends/girlfriends defame the other parent. In fact, judges often see this sort of behavior as an attack on the other parent's relationship with the children. Since facilitating a good relationship between the kids and the other parent is a major factor in determining custody and parent-time, defaming the other parent can end up costing dearly. People have lost custody and received less parent-time for this type of behavior.

So, if this is happening to you, gather all your evidence and give it to your attorney. You can use it at temporary orders, in mediation, or at trial. 

In the End

In the end, how you handle this situation is up to you. I can tell you from my experience, it's best to call the police and report harassment. That usually solves the problem. Then, you take that evidence and use it in your divorce case to show the court the other parent's true colors. That's what's worked for our clients.

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