Spousal Privilege Law in Michigan: Your Questions Answered

Photo of unhappy couple facing away from each other

In Michigan, spousal privilege law prevents privileged information from being used in a trial.

Most people have heard references in movies to the fact that “a wife can’t testify against her husband in court.” But very few people actually know what the spousal privilege law is.

In Michigan, the law recognizes that in any marriage, personal and private information is often exchanged between spouses. So if either a husband or a wife is a defendant in a court trial, the spousal privilege law prevents most of their confidential communications from being used as evidence against either one of them.

For example, if a husband is charged with dealing drugs or embezzling money from his job, the privilege may prevent his wife from testifying against him during the trial. Spousal privilege recognizes that husbands and wives are not to be considered ordinary witnesses when one is pitted against the other in court. A spouse who is called as a witness during a hearing but refuses to answer questions cannot be legally compelled to testify against their marital partner.

It is important to note, however, that there are exceptions to this law. For example, in Michigan in cases of domestic violence or child abuse and neglect, the spousal privilege law does not apply. It also doesn’t count in situations where one spouse is charged with committing a crime against anyone who lives with either spouse (for example, a spouse’s parents).

Additionally, if either spouse passes on confidential information to a third party, that information is no longer considered privileged, and the third party can be compelled to testify against the individual in question. So, if a husband shares confidential information with his wife, and his wife shares that information with a friend of hers, the friend can be compelled to testify.

Michigan law also states that “…the privilege can be asserted only while the spouses are legally married. It precludes all testimony regardless of whether the events at issue occurred before or during the marriage.” This means that if the crime was committed while a couple was married, but they have since divorced, the spousal privilege law no longer applies. While that might be the case, there are other marital privileges that might still apply to your case. When in doubt, speak to your lawyer.

And finally, the law only applies to a legally married couple. If the marriage is considered to be void for any reason, the privilege doesn’t apply. It also doesn’t apply to a couple who live together and share children and a home but are not legally married, regardless of how long they have been in a relationship. This is in part because Michigan doesn’t recognize Common Law marriage as being a legally binding form of marriage. There are also some exceptions to the spousal privilege so without having an experienced lawyer advising you, it’s best to not reply on that privilege applying to your own situation.

We hope this has cleared up any questions you may have had regarding Michigan’s spousal privilege law. However, if you have any further questions or concerns, or are involved in a trial and are concerned about what your spouse may say if called to the witness stand, please contact our skilled family law attorneys at 248 306 4004. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can help you deal with all of your family law concerns with the dignity and care that they need.

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