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Volokh Conspiracy

Divorcing Spouses Forbidden from "Disparaging" Each Other to Their Employers

A clear First Amendment violation, I think -- but it's the law in Tennessee.


Under Tennessee law, when a divorce is begun (and until the proceedings are over), a court must issue

[a]n injunction restraining both parties from harassing, threatening, assaulting or abusing the other and from making disparaging remarks about the other to or in the presence of any children of the parties or to either party's employer;

And such speech could therefore be a crime (since violating an injunction constitutes criminal contempt of court). Similar rules apply whenever a child custody petition is filed, even if the parties are unmarried and there's thus no divorce.

Thus, if two coworkers are married, and the wife files for divorce, claiming that her husband had beaten her, she can't mention this to their joint employer, since that would presumably be "disparaging." And the injunction isn't limited to banning false and defamatory remarks; even true statements and expressions of opinion would violate the injunction.

Or say a woman is married to a police officer. She files for divorce, claiming that he had abused her, and then finds evidence that the husband had gotten his coworkers not to investigate the abuse. She can't then write to the police chief or the mayor to complain, since that too would presumably involve "disparaging remarks" said to the husband's employer. Indeed, she might be violating the law simply by filing a complaint with the police about her husband's supposed abuse.

Indeed, I will blog shortly about a case in which such an injunction was issued against a divorcing wife of a police officer, and the court concluded the injunction was violated by the wife's letter complaining to the mayor. The court went even further, ordering the wife to take down her Facebook posts about her allegations against her husband and the police department.

But in this post, I just wanted to flag the broad statutory restriction. If anyone knows of cases in which this statute (or an order issued under the statute) is being challenged, or might be challenged, please let me know.