Can You Sue for Defamation in a Divorce in Colorado?

Posted in Colorado Laws on June 29, 2019

In the midst of a tense and emotional divorce case, inadvisable events can sometimes occur. One spouse may make statements or allegations against the other during proceedings, including those which could be damaging and potentially defamatory. In such cases, you may seek to file a lawsuit for defamation against your spouse during the divorce.

When Can Someone File a Defamation Claim?

In general terms, a plaintiff may file a defamation claim because someone has made a statement about them which has caused them financial harm or damaged their reputation. Many cases link these effects so the plaintiff will suffer both.

Defamation may refer to statements made in print or online, communicated by other means, including verbally. Plaintiffs are commonly people who have a profession or career which relies on the strength of their reputation. These people file for damages they have sustained, or risk sustaining, due to the statements made.

In such a situation, a plaintiff may file legal proceedings against the person who made the statement, who will be the defendant in that case. Public figures may also be victims of defamation, but their public status makes it more difficult to pursue defamation compared to a private individual.

Defamation and Divorce

Many reasons exist why you may wish to file a lawsuit for defamation during a divorce. Your spouse may make a statement which you consider defamatory during the course of the divorce. This may also apply to other parties involved in the case, such as your child’s other parent or your spouse’s new partner.

As with all defamation cases, in divorce defamation, the burden of proof will be on the defendant. This means that the spouse who made the statement will need to prove that what they said was not defamatory.

Although specific exceptions relating to defamation law exist, it is often possible to file a lawsuit for defamation during a divorce. In such cases, the plaintiff may be eligible for monetary compensation from the defendant. They would then need to pay material damages such as court costs, attorney’s fees, lost wages, lost business, and pain and suffering. The court may also order the defendant to withdraw his or her statement.

What Does the Law Say in Colorado?

Under Colorado law, a defamatory statement is one which is:

  • A statement made about an individual
    • A false statement
  • A statement of fact relating to an individual
  • Published or broadcast, that is, communicated to a third party
  • Resulted in material harm, or damages, to the plaintiff
    • This could be financial loss, damage to reputation, or both.
    • The exception to this is statements which are so harmful that they are inherently defamatory, or libel per se.
  • Made with negligent disregard, at a minimum

In cases relating to a public figure or a matter of public concern, there must have been actual malice behind the statement.

Colorado previously had a criminal defamation statute. Under the statute, the state considered certain types of defamation a Class 6 felony under C.R.S. 18-13-105 in Colorado. However, Colorado repealed this statute in 2012.

When May a Defamation Claim Not Be Applicable?

However, statements will not be subject to a defamation claim in certain conditions. If someone makes a statement under legal privilege, then they may have protection under qualified immunity. This may apply to statements made during a divorce. Additionally, under Colo. Rev. Stat. 13-80-103(1)(a) plaintiffs must file civil defamation cases within one year of the date of injury.

Because of the complex nature of defamation claims relating to statements made in court, you should seek qualified legal advice before taking any action. A Colorado divorce attorney will be able to tell you if you have grounds for a case, and the best way to proceed.