“Can You Get Punitive Damages In A Divorce?”
Punitive damages, which are money damages meant to punish a party for bad conduct, are not generally allowed in family law. This is despite the fact that often some of the very worst behavior I’ve ever witnessed has occurred in family law cases. The law simply does not provide for punitive damages in almost all cases. However, there is one exception. This relates to hidden assets and falsified financials.

It works like this: California Civil Code Section 3294 applies to all civil cases, including family law cases. It provides for punitive damages as follows:

“(a) In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”

Here’s where it really gets interesting in divorce cases where one party is hiding assets or lying about the finances:
“(c) As used in this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(3) “Fraud” means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”
This section has been used successfully in divorce cases where one party lied about and hid assets. Courts have found that this can constitute fraud and have imposed punitive damages to deter such behavior.
Now, this does not mean it will be applied to most or even many cases. Use has been limited to those cases where it can clearly be proven that one side lied and hid information for financial gain. It’s not common, but it can happen, depending on what has actually happened in the case, and, most importantly, what can be proven by clear and convincing evidence.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.
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