There is unanimous agreement among attorneys and litigants that the family courts do not punish perjury in any meaningful way. I am not going to mince words on this one: the California Superior Courts have abdicated responsibility on this issue. Perjury is the accepted norm in family law, and as long as perjury is not dealt with in a meaningful way, then justice will be denied to California citizens while the perjurers and the attorneys who knowingly and willfully suborn perjury will continue committing this crime.
I say crime because, yes, perjury is in fact a crime. Penal Code 118 makes it a crime to commit perjury and Penal Code 127 makes it a crime to suborn perjury.
The Elkins task force was convened with the purpose of dealing with some of the procedural problems facing California courts. In the public comments section, which you can find here
Numerous persons, attorneys and otherwise, commented on the issue of perjury. Below is just a sampling of what was said.
“We support strongly the idea that there is much apparent perjury in family court. ”
Hon. Steven K. Austin
Chair, California Commission on Access to Justice
Judge, Superior Court of Contra Costa County
“Perjury, including perjury by declaration, runs rampant in family courts and is seldom punished”
-Elizabeth Barton, AM, Ph.D.
Fathers & Families
Los Angeles and Boston
“The Court should be more inclined, upon its own motion, to address the issues of perjury in family law. Generally, it seems like a party must take steps in civil court separately by commencing action through the District Attorney. When a Family Law judge recognizes, by offered proof of a party, that perjury has been committed by the other party, a ruling should be made, at a minimum, as to bad faith, sanctions, or similar.”
Santa Rosa, CA
“Commentator noted concerns about prevalence of perjury in family court and use of emergency OSC to create advantages for some litigants. Commentator noted concerns with respect to public trust and confidence.”
“This is perhaps the single most important issue to be addressed in Court. Given the complete lack of strong guidelines for sharing custody, wide judicial discretion and lack of resources to provide adequate attention, irregular motion procedures (i.e., “emergency” OSCs based on mere allegations), and lack of strong ethical character among members of the family bar, complete lack of punishment or sanctions, the incentive to commit perjury is obvious. It has been said by many family lawyers and citizens alike that family court is ‘liars court’
We would suggest to the Task Force that the recommendations herein would go a long way to preventing perjury—raising the evidentiary bar to higher levels, refusing “knee jerk” OSCs, simplifying the process, increasing consistency and clear guidelines to increase predictability, and educating members of the family bar about their ethical obligations as officers of the court—would go much farther in preventing the rampant perjury so many complain of, and which has so severely undermined public confidence in the Courts.
California Coalition for Families and Children (“CCFC”)
San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles
*I have reviewed the draft recommendations. I am gratified that the report recognizes the important and lasting effects of family court decisions (see Overview) and believe it offers a good, if rudimentary, beginning, at how to address the many problems facing family court litigants. Particularly noteworthy is its recognition of better handling of perjury in family cases (Section 14), a problem that essentially undermines the public confidence in the judicial system.”
San Francisco, CA
This has more to do with a lack of will to enforce existing law, however we would include (1) where there is clear and convincing evidence the Court shall ensure prosecution (2) where the perjury includes serious matters such as false accusations of abuse or violence the Court shall rebuttably presume that the perjurer is an unfit parent and (3) where the Court can impose sanctions short of prosecution the Court shall do so.
National Coalition for Men
San Diego, CA
President San Diego Children’s Coalition
President Coalition of Parent Support
The Task Force’s commentary regarding perjury (including inappropriately “completing” Income & Expense Declarations) is understated. If litigants became aware that penalties for perjury were imposed liberally and throughout the case, the costs of handlingdissolution matters would decrease. Lawyers would have less of a burden to find and prove the truth if there was less perjury. In a case that I am presently handling, the other party – when referencing himself – was bold enough to declare at his deposition that “you can say anything in family law and get away with it.” The perception that there is no remedy for perjury must be changed.
Attorney at Law
Stegmeier & Gelbart, LLP
Family Law Practice
Costa Mesa, CA
These comments are not all of them, but there is no disagreement on this matter. Even perjurers and attorneys who suborn perjury will pay lip service to these ideals, which means that the issue is not one of public support, but the lack of money, time, and will power.