In addition to the issues typically addressed in a divorce proceeding–such as custody, child support and property division–certain events and circumstances may have occurred during the marriage or during the divorce proceeding itself that give rise to additional legal claims. These legal claims, which could result in money damages and, in some cases, punitive damages, include:
- Assault. Assault occurs when one spouse physically injures the other spouse, intentionally or recklessly causes the other spouse to be injured or causes the other spouse to be in fear of imminent physical harm. The important point is that a physical touching is not required for an assault to have occurred.
- Breach of fiduciary duty. In the marital context, breach of fiduciary duty can occur in any number of ways, including when (i) one spouse is trusted with safekeeping another spouse’s separate property and commingles it with community property to the point that it is not distinguishable, (ii) one spouse puts community property in his or her name only, and/or (iii) one spouse buys, sells and/or hides community property to the detriment of the other spouse.
- Conversion. Conversion, quite simply, is theft. It occurs, for example, when one spouse takes the other spouse’s separate property and sells it or uses it for his or her exclusive personal benefit to the exclusion of the spouse from whom it was taken.
- Defamation. Defamation–also known as libel or slander–occurs when one spouse maliciously, intentionally or recklessly makes false statements about the defamed spouse to friends, family or co-workers that damage the defamed spouse’s reputation in the eyes of the community and/or cause others not to associate with the defamed spouse. Libel is when the false statements are in writing–such as on social networking websites and in letters, emails and text messages. Slander is when the false statements are oral.
- False imprisonment. False imprisonment occurs when one spouse detains another spouse against his or her consent–for example, by locking the other spouse in a closet or a room, by violence, by threat or by any other means that restrains the other spouse from moving from one place to another (such as being tied up or bound in some fashion).
- Fraud. Fraud occurs when one spouse defrauds the other spouse (i) by making false representations to the other spouse with the intent that the other spouse rely on the misrepresentations, (ii) the other spouse, in fact, relied on the misrepresentations and, as a result, (iii) the other spouse, the other spouse’s separate property estate and/or the community property estate were damaged.
- Fraudulent transfer. A fraudulent transfer happens when one spouse transfers community property to a third party–usually a close friend or family member–for the transferring spouse’s exclusive personal benefit. The transferring spouse may secretly maintain possession or control over the property after the transfer with the help of the close friend or family member.
- Identity theft. When one spouse uses, sells or transfers the other spouse’s personal identifying information–such as a Social Security number, date of birth, driver’s license number or other personal identifying information–without the other spouse’s consent and the other spouse suffers damages as a result, the spouse who took and misused the information is liable for identity theft.
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress. The infliction of emotional distress occurs when one spouse intentionally or recklessly, through extreme and outrageous conduct, causes the other spouse to suffer severe emotional distress. Emotional distress means highly unpleasant mental reactions, such as grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, disappointment and worry. Severe means that the distress inflicted is so extreme that a reasonable person could not be expected to endure it without suffering unreasonably.
- Interception of communications. This claim arises when one spouse steals the other spouse’s mail, wiretaps the other spouse’s telephone, steals the other spouse’s cell phone to read private text messages, secretly installs listening devices and/or cameras in the other spouse’s home or hacks into the other spouse’s computer to intercept and read emails.
- Invasion of privacy. Invasion of privacy can occur in two ways: by one spouse repeatedly intruding on another spouse’s seclusion and solitude when the other spouse had an expectation of privacy and/or by one spouse disclosing to the other spouse’s family, friends and co-workers private and embarrassing information about the other spouse.
- Transmission of venereal disease. This claim arises when one spouse intentionally or negligently transmits an incurable venereal disease to the other spouse.
This list of legal claims is by no means exhaustive. If your spouse has engaged in conduct that is suspicious, harassing, stressful, physically menacing and/or financially damaging, contact Sonya Coffman. As an experienced trial lawyer, Sonya Coffman will thoroughly evaluate your potential legal claims. Because . . . family matters.