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Can the court keep one spouse from disparaging the other during divorce?

On Behalf of | Jun 27, 2024 | Divorce |

In divorce proceedings, disputes can escalate beyond matters of property division. But sometimes these disputes go too far and one spouse may lash out at the other during the divorce. Legal remedies play an important role in the process when one spouse engages in harmful behavior, such as disparaging the other to their employer. A recent case dug into the particulars of this type of dispute, outlining when courts can and cannot get involved.

In the case, the wife sought an injunction to prevent her husband from disparaging her to her employer. If the court granted the injunction, it would have limited the husband’s speech in a way that the courts consider a prior restraint. Although not a violation of the individual’s protection of free speech, the courts disfavor such restraints. Prior restraints such as these are permissible only when a compelling state interest exists.

Does the state have a compelling interest in divorce cases?

There are situations in divorce cases when such action is permissible. The primary example: the well-being of children.

In an attempt to meet this requirement, the wife argued that the husband’s statements threatened her employment as a pharmacy director at a major hospital. The action at issue involved the husband reaching out the employer and accusing the wife of criminal wrongdoing during her employment. If the husband’s claims were true, the wife’s actions might have contributed to the situation and sharing acts of criminal wrongdoing is in the interest of the public. If false, the wife could potentially pursue a defamation claim against her husband.

In coming to its decision, the court weighed the competing interests without expressly deciding on the authority to grant the requested relief. While in this case the trial court denied the wife’s injunction and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, it is important to point out that they also discussed situations when such judicial action is warranted.

What should divorcing couples learn from this case?

Couples navigating divorce are wise to be aware of the delicate balance between protecting reputations and preserving free speech rights. Legal remedies must align with compelling state interests, even in emotionally charged situations.

Ivankovic v. Ivankovic (February 21, 2024)

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