Spousal privilege is a rule that prevents one spouse from being compelled to give testimony against their partner in court proceedings. This rule was created to protect the institution of marriage and marital harmony by keeping spouses from having to divulge private details about their relationship or family life.
Historically, if one spouse did not want the other to testify against them, they could invoke spousal privilege and block their spouse from taking the stand.
However, the rules have changed somewhat in recent decades. Now only the spouse who is called to testify can exercise their spousal privilege, which means they have the choice of whether they will testify against their partner in court.
As a result of this change, it is no longer possible for one spouse to completely block their partner from giving evidence against them in court proceedings.
When Does Spousal Privilege Apply?
The most important factor for determining whether or not spousal privilege applies is whether the couple was married at the time of communication between spouses. There are three key criteria for spousal privilege to apply:
The couple must be legally married;
Communications between spouses have remained confidential and were not shared with anyone else; and
Communications were made with the intent for the information to remain confidential.
All three criteria must be met before spousal privilege can apply.
Exceptions to Spousal Privilege
While in many cases, you can refuse to disclose confidential information that your spouse shared with you, there are certain exceptions. Anyone facing a legal issue potentially involving spousal privilege should understand these exceptions so they can make informed decisions about their case.
Exception 1 – Reveal Information to a Third Party
One of the most common exceptions to spousal privilege is when a couple reveals private communication to third parties. The spouse can still refuse to testify by invoking marital privilege, but the information shared with the third party can be used in court proceedings.
Exception 2 – One Spouse Is Suing the Other
Another major exception to spousal privilege is when one spouse is suing the other, such as during a divorce proceeding. In these cases, either spouse may be required to testify against the other in order for their case to be heard and judged fairly by a court of law.
Exception 3 – Crimes Against Spouse or Children
When one spouse is charged with a crime against the other or their children, spousal privilege cannot be invoked. In these cases, either party may be called upon to testify about what happened and provide evidence for or against their partner in order for justice to be served.
Exception 4 – Communication Occurring Before Marriage
If the communication occurred between two people prior to their marriage, then that communication is not privileged. Neither you nor your spouse can refuse to testify on the basis of marital privilege based on something that was discussed before the marriage occurred.
Exception 5 – Questions Involving Child Support
Cases involving questions of child support are considered exceptions to the marital privilege rule. If the spouses are involved in a court proceeding regarding their children, they cannot refuse to testify by invoking spousal privilege.
Exception 6 – Conversations Regarding Fraud
Florida law dictates that if a conversation between spouses occurred with the intent to commit fraud, then the spousal privilege doesn’t apply. This means that such conversations can become part of the evidence presented in court proceedings and can potentially be used against one or both spouses.
Contact an Experienced Orlando Divorce Attorney To Understand Your Rights
Understanding how spousal privilege works will help if you are facing legal proceedings with your partner. If you would like more information about spousal privilege or need legal advice regarding your current situation, contact McMichen, Cinami & Demps today to schedule a free consultation.