Fraud (Law.com) is defined as “the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right.” The standards for fraud can differ in criminal court versus family court. In the broad field of family law, there are several areas that one can experience fraud, such as child support, divorce, discovery, spousal support, paternity, and prenuptial agreements.
Generally, fraud is either intrinsic or extrinsic. According to Law.com, intrinsic fraud is “an intentionally false representation (lie) which is part of the fraud and can be considered in determining general and punitive damages,” and extrinsic fraud is “fraudulent acts which keep a person from obtaining information about his/her rights to enforce a contract or getting evidence to defend against a lawsuit.” Extrinsic fraud is collateral or external to the trial of the case, while intrinsic fraud is the subject of a lawsuit.
To prove fraud, one must show the other party’s actions involved certain elements:
- they made a false statement of a material fact
- they had knowledge that the statement made was untrue
- they intended to deceive the alleged victim
- that the victim relied upon the statement or fact
- there was injury to the victim due to their fraud
When a couple decides to divorce, they go through a process of discovery, the full disclosure of information concerning their marital finances such as assets, debts, and income. To hide (fail to disclose) money or assets from a spouse is fraudulent.
Prenuptial agreements are contracts established before marriage that outline what will happen when one of the party dies, the couple separates or gets divorced. A prenup can be difficult to overturn and only for limited reasons, but one of those reasons is fraudulently represented financial facts.
Fraud is a common ground for annulment of a marriage. To receive an annulment based on fraud, the fraud must affect the marriage in a clear and essential way.
If false information is submitted on an application for child support, it is considered child support fraud. Whether the recipient or the paying parent commits fraud, it is a serious matter and directly affects the child’s best interest in negative ways. Some examples are: falsifying income, claiming higher expenses than exist, using support for purposes not authorized, giving wrong amounts for payments, and false employment statements or concealing a second job.
Spousal support fraud is when a person intentionally presents false information that affects spousal suppose payments, whether to obtain more money or to pay less. Providing false income levels, wrong tax information, failing to disclose assets, or valuing property or assets incorrectly, can lead to penalties, fines, even jail time.
Paternity suits, in most cases levied by the mother to establish the father’s proof of paternity, can be helpful in obtaining the right to child support. With the inexpensive and common use of DNA testing to establish paternity, paternity fraud is an evolving area of law.
Collusion is a form of fraud committed by two or more people. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, collusion in a divorce proceeding is defined as “an agreement between husband and wife that one of them shall commit, or appear to have committed, or be represented in court as having committed, acts constituting a cause of divorce, for the purpose of enabling the other to obtain a divorce.” This was seen more before the states established no fault laws, alleviating the burden on the court’s to prove fraud in such cases.
Each state has its own rules governing fraud, the grounds for reversal or relief, and the time allowed for a motion to be made after a judgment, order or procedure. If fraud is proven in a case, then a judgment can be reversed, but courts may not void judgment if the fraud is intrinsic.
It may be wise to heed Ben Franklin’s old adage, “Avoid dishonest gain: no price can recompense the pangs of vice.”