Is lying under oath a
big deal in a Michigan divorce?
The answer is yes. Lying under can be punished by a court by fine or imprisonment. In addition, lying under oath is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.
Lying under oath is called perjury and Michigan divorce
courts have the power to fine or imprison a party who makes false, misleading
testimony. The power is called the power of contempt. Perjury is also a crime
governed by the Michigan
Penal Code Act 328 of 1931 (MCL 750.422) which is punishable by not more
than 15 years in state prison.
The power of contempt authority of a Michigan divorce
court (e.g. to fine or imprison someone who lied under oath) can be found in Michigan
Compiled Laws Section 600.1701 which provides in pertinent part:
“The supreme court, circuit court, and all other courts
of record, have power to punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, persons
guilty of any neglect or violation of duty or misconduct in all of the
following cases . . .”.
Included in the list is disobeying an order of the court
and committing perjury (e.g. making a false and misleading statement).
In re Contempt of Auto Club
Ins. Ass’n, 243 Mich App at 708. “[T]he primary purpose of the
contempt power is to preserve the effectiveness and sustain the power of the
In re Contempt of United
Stationers Supply Co, 239 Mich App 496, 500 (2000). A secondary purpose of the civil contempt
power is “to preserve and enforce the rights of private parties to suits and to
compel obedience of orders and decrees made to enforce those rights and
administer the remedies to which the court has found the parties are entitled.”
In re Contempt of United Stationers Supply Co, 239 Mich App at 499. Courts can impose three general types of sanctions to enforce the contempt power. For criminal contempt, the court imposes punitive sanctions to vindicate its authority. Id. For civil contempt, the court imposes coercive sanctions to force compliance with its orders. Id. “there are two types of civil contempt sanctions, coercive and compensatory[.];
In re Contempt of Steingold,
244 Mich App 153, 157-158 (2000).
When the allegedly contemptuous behavior is indirect, it takes place
outside the immediate view of the court, the court may only punish the alleged
contemnor after proof of the facts charged has been made by affidavit or other
method and opportunity has been given to defend the charges.
Harvey v Lewis, 10
Mich App 23 (1968). “Another test of whether the contempt is civil or
criminal involves consideration of subsequent conduct–an ‘after the fact’
determination. It may be summarized: Where the contemnor’s conduct of
noncompliance with the court order as altered the status quo so that it cannot be restored or the
relief intended becomes impossible, there is criminal contempt; however, where
the contemnor’s conduct of noncompliance with the court order is such that the status quo can be
restored and it is still possible to grant the relief originally sought, there
is civil contempt.”
In re Contempt of Dougherty,
429 Mich at 93, quoting Gompers,
221 US at 441. Civil contempt sanctions are “‘remedial, and for the benefit
of the complainant.’; Criminal contempt sanctions are imposed to punish for
past misconduct and to “vindicate the authority of the court.” In re Contempt of Dougherty,
429 Mich at 93, citing Gompers,
221 US at 441. “[I]mprisonment for criminal contempt is appropriate where ‘the
defendant does that which he [or she] has been commanded not to do . . . .’” In re Contempt of Dougherty,
429 Mich at 93, quoting Gompers,
221 US at 442. Imprisonment for criminal contempt operates “‘solely as
punishment for the completed act of disobedience.’” In re Contempt of Dougherty, 429 Mich at 93-94,
221 US at 442-443.
Casbergue v Casbergue, 124
Mich App 491, 495 (1983).
In civil contempt proceedings, the contemnor must be given an
opportunity to purge himself or herself of the contempt by complying with the
conditions set by the court to remedy the situation.
In re Gorcyca, 500
Mich 588, 619-620 (2017). Where the trial court found three children in
contempt and stated that the children would no longer be in contempt once they
participated in court-ordered parenting time with their father, and that the
father would inform the court when the children complied, the trial court
committed legal error by “unlawfully delegating to the father the discretion to
determine when any of the children had purged themselves of contempt[;]” thus,
the order of contempt “left the impression that only the father had the ‘keys
to the jailhouse”).
State Bar v Cramer, 399
Mich 116, 128 (1976).
Criminal contempt penalties are unconditional and imposed as punishment
for past misconduct; accordingly, the contemnor does not have the ability to purge
himself or herself of the contempt. abrogated in part on other grounds by Dressel v Ameribank,
468 Mich 557, 562 (2003).
In re Bradley Estate,
494 Mich 367, 379 (2013). Criminal contempt sanctions typically include a
jail term and fines that are intended to punish past contumacious behavior.
600.1721 (codifying the compensatory
sanction without specifically limiting it to civil contempt proceedings).
600.1701. Probationary terms may also be imposed in cases of criminal
600.1715(1). Civil contempt sanctions also typically include a fine or
Both civil and criminal contempt may be punished by
imprisonment, a fine, or both.. There are three different sanctions available
to a court to remedy or redress contemptuous behavior:
- criminal punishment to vindicate the court’s authority;
- civil coercion, to force compliance with an order; and
- compensatory relief to the complainant.
600.1715(2). The court may also order the contemnor to pay any fines,
costs, and expenses of the proceedings.
600.1711(2) (“When any contempt is
committed other than in the immediate view and presence of the court, the court
may punish it by fine or imprisonment, or both, after proof of the facts
charged has been made by affidavit or other method and opportunity has been
given to defend”);
Is lying under
oath a big deal in a Michigan divorce?
The answer is yes. Lying under can be punished by a court
by fine or imprisonment. In addition, lying under oath is a felony, punishable
by up to 15 years in state prison.
About Findling Law
I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades. The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles. We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.
By: Daniel Findling