Understanding the Standards of Proof in Family Law Cases

Most people are familiar with the concept of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases. This means that the prosecution in a criminal case has the responsibility—also known as the “burden of proof”—of proving to the jury that the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt”—the “standard of proof.”

As an illustrative tool to help understand this concept, the “reasonable doubt” standard can be seen require evidence to be sufficient for a jury to be 90% certain that the defendant committed the crime.

The burden and standard of proof can change depending on the case and issues involved. In family law cases, there are various standards of proof involved based on what the parties are litigating.

The Two Standards of Proof in Family Law Cases

In most civil cases—including family law matters—the default standard of proof is a “preponderance of the evidence.” Courts have determined that the preponderance standard means that the party’s argument is “more likely than not” correct. This can be understood to mean that a party must provide at least a 51-49% balance of evidence that favors their position.

Another standard of proof commonly seen in family law cases is known as “clear and convincing evidence.” This standard is higher than the default preponderance standard in most civil cases. Courts have interpreted this standard to mean that “clear, unequivocal and convincing.” However, this standard is not as stringent as the “reasonable doubt” standard employed in criminal cases.

What Issues Determine the Standard of Proof?

The standard of proof is determined by the stakes associated with a particular issue and each party’s particular interests. For example, California courts have held that the standard of “clear and convincing evidence is required ‘where particularly important individual interests or rights are at stake,’ such as the termination of parental rights, involuntary commitment, and deportation.”

The following are examples of when the heightened “clear and convincing evidence” standard is appropriate in family law cases:

  • Allegations that a party waived significant property rights
  • Allegations that a party intentionally and deliberately represented certain facts to the other party, causing them to detrimentally rely on such representations
  • Asking for spousal support after remarriage per a marital agreement
  • A spouse’s request of an award of full ownership of an asset transferred or undisclosed in violation of the other spouse’s fiduciary duty
  • Termination of a party’s parental rights to a dependent child
  • Allegations of fraudulent or improper conduct warranting punitive damages

Contact Family Law San Diego to Learn More

The legal details of divorce proceedings and other family law matters can be challenging to navigate. As a result, it is in your best interest to consult a licensed attorney from Family Law San Diego to represent your position and legal interests. Our legal team is dedicated to helping you find a just resolution to your family law dispute to minimize the negative effects on your familial relationships.

Call us at (619) 577-4900 or contact our office online today to schedule a case assessment exploring your legal rights and options.