Is lying under oath a big deal in a Michigan divorce?

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.

The basics.

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 details.

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).

Case law.

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 courts.”

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, quoting Gompers, 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.

Statutes.

MCL 600.1721 (codifying the compensatory sanction without specifically limiting it to civil contempt proceedings).

MCL 600.1701. Probationary terms may also be imposed in cases of criminal contempt.

MCL 600.1715(1). Civil contempt sanctions also typically include a fine or jail.

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: 

  1. criminal punishment to vindicate the court’s authority;   
  2. civil coercion, to force compliance with an order; and
  3. compensatory relief to the complainant.

MCL 600.1715(2). The court may also order the contemnor to pay any fines, costs, and expenses of the proceedings.

MCL 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.

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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

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