Perjury In Family Courts of Australia – Why Does It Rarely Have Legal Consequences?

Australia designed its family law system to resolve disputes fairly and honestly. It relies on the truth of information from the involved parties. Unfortunately, not everyone is honest in these scenarios.

Family law affidavits are often emotional. They may present different versions of how parents see a situation, which is normal. It is not the same as purposeful lying. It is not trying to assassinate another’s character or discredit them.

Perjury is the act of lying under oath. It is a serious offence. It can have big consequences. But, it often has no consequence in family law cases. In this article, we’ll explore perjury in family law. We’ll look at why people are rarely charged with it and the penalties for it. We’ll also cover the complexities of proving it in family court.

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Perjury In Family Law in Australia

Perjury, unfortunately, is not uncommon in family law proceedings. The emotional nature of family disputes often leads individuals to make false statements or provide misleading information. The consequences of perjury can be severe, affecting decisions related to child custody, spousal support, and property division.

Despite its prevalence, charging someone with perjury in family law proceedings is a rare occurrence. The legal system faces challenges in distinguishing between intentional falsehoods and genuine mistakes.

Additionally, family law proceedings often focus on achieving resolution rather than punishing dishonesty, contributing to the hesitancy in pursuing perjury charges.

Why Are People Rarely Charged With Perjury Or Lying On A Sworn Affidavit In Family Law Proceedings?

The reluctance to charge individuals with perjury in family law proceedings stems from the complex nature of family disputes. The court recognises families’ emotional strain during legal proceedings, making determining the intent behind false statements challenging. Courts often prioritise the children’s best interests and resolving disputes, which may take precedence over pursuing perjury charges.

The Emotional Distress Experienced By Those Trying To ‘Clear Their Name’ After Being Lied About In Family Law Proceedings

There are many instances, both in family law matters that go to trial, and those that do not, that one or both parents state that they have been lied about. This isn’t in minor instances either, it can be very large lies that are told for a number of reasons, including personal gain or one or both parties using underhanded tactics, false accusations or gross exaggerations to ‘win’ a case.

There can be a lot at stake in a family law case – the family, assets, superannuation – and obviously, the amount of time spent with children. All of these factors can create emotional responses, and some people choose to use lying as a tactic to get what they want.

This can be levelling allegations of child abuse, family violence, drug use or other conduct that is hard to prove or disprove, to discredit the other party. Many people do have to live with experiences like this, and it can be very hard to distinguish one from the other. Parties found lying are often not penalised, which can be hard to understand, especially when the same behaviour in a criminal court would come with much heavier penalties.

Often, perjury is committed by those who wish to denigrate the other party’s character, or have set outcome goals that they feel are more achievable than making the other party look bad. It’s extremely distressing to the receiving party but often isn’t addressed legally. 

What Is The Penalty For Perjury In Family Law Proceedings?

While perjury is a serious offence in criminal courts, the penalties for committing perjury in family law matters can vary. The court has the authority to impose fines or, in extreme cases, imprisonment for those found guilty of providing false information under oath. However, the decision to pursue charges and the severity of the penalty depend on the specific circumstances of each case.

If it is quite clear that lies are being told, whether or not legal consequences occur, the person doing this will likely lose some credibility with further admissions. Penalties for defamation (lying or making false statements to harm another’s reputation) in Australia include financial compensation, retractions, public or written apologies, but are not applied very often in the context of family law matters.  

How Can Someone Prove Perjury In Family Law Matters?

Proving perjury in family law matters can be a complex task. The legal system requires clear evidence demonstrating that the false statement was made intentionally and not due to a misunderstanding or mistake. 

Documentary evidence, witness testimony, or inconsistencies in the statements made under oath may be crucial in establishing perjury. Seeking legal advice and working closely with experienced family law practitioners is essential when attempting to prove perjury in family court.

What Happens If Someone Commits Perjury Or Attempts Character Assassination In Court In Family Law Matters Or Lies On An Affidavit?

Providing false information on an affidavit is a form of perjury and is taken seriously by the family court. The consequences of lying on an affidavit can include the rejection of the evidence, damage to one’s credibility, and potential legal repercussions. 

Individuals found guilty of perjury may face fines, imprisonment, or other penalties, depending on the severity of the false statements – but once again, this is a rare occurrence in comparison with criminal court.

Perjury in family law matters is a complex and challenging issue. While it is not uncommon for false information to surface during family law proceedings, the legal system must carefully navigate the complexities of family dynamics to distinguish between intentional falsehoods and genuine mistakes. 

The reluctance to charge individuals with perjury is rooted in prioritising resolution and the family’s best interests. Individuals involved in family court matters should strive for honesty and transparency while seeking legal guidance to navigate the complexities of the legal system.

What Are My Options If Someone Is Lying About Me In Family Court Proceedings?

If you are dealing with an ex-partner or spouse making up things during family law proceedings, getting some good legal advice is important. If they are minor issues, you may be advised that it is easier to disregard them, as trying to prove otherwise may be more stressful than it’s worth doing.

If it’s a false allegation and has the power to harm your reputation seriously, or you feel strongly about taking action, here are some steps you can take.

  1. Seek legal advice before responding or replying to the other party
  2. If someone has lied about you in an affidavit, you can reply in an affidavit to that point, explaining the circumstances as you know or see them. If you have evidence, witnesses or other information that disproves the statement or allegation, this can also be noted.
  3. If someone has lied about you at trial, this is defined as perjury. Talk to a family lawyer about your best course of action.
  4. Request a ‘non-denigration’ clause to be added in your family law Consent Orders that requires the other party not to speak badly about you to others or in the presence of your children. These can occasionally be made in matters that do not involve children. 
  5. Under Section 117 of the Family Law Act, a person can be ordered to pay the legal costs of another to clear their name if they have made false allegations.
  6. In family law matters, evidence or admissions based on hearsay, opinion, or character are generally not accepted. 
  7. An affidavit is a numbered list of facts, and adding something as a fact, when it is untrue, or you can not prove this, can be seen as an offence or false statement. Anything listed in an affidavit should be able to be clearly shown as a fact.

If you are currently dealing with this type of situation, please contact our team for advice on your legal options.

This is general information only. Please contact us for expert legal advice that considers your unique personal situation before making any decisions based on this article.

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Judy Stewart

Judy Stewart

Accredited Family Law Specialist