Are Spouses Immune from Testifying in Court?

Spousal Testimonial Immunity

Spouses are immune from testifying against each other in court under certain circumstances according to California Evidence Code § 970. This immunity only applies to individuals who are married to each other. Should spouses end their marriage through divorce, they can no longer refuse to testify against each other in court. Importantly, the spouse who is a party to the lawsuit can also prevent their spouse from testifying against them, even if they wanted to.

However, § 970 does not grant absolute testimonial immunity to spouses. When spouses are opposite each other in a lawsuit, such as in a divorce, this immunity does not apply.

In addition to legal actions between spouses, California Evidence Code § 972 governs other exceptions to the spousal testimonial privilege, including:

  • Commitment proceedings for a mentally or physically affected spouse
  • Proceedings to determine the spouse’s competency due to physical or mental conditions
  • Juvenile proceedings to protect minors or provide for their support
  • Criminal proceedings alleging child or spousal neglect or abandonment

Protections for Confidential Spousal Communications

Under California Evidence Code § 980, courts cannot compel someone to testify about any confidential communications they had with their spouse during the marriage. These protections extend even beyond the dissolution of their marriage by divorce. Therefore, you can prevent your former spouse from testifying about conversations you had with them in private.

The difference between this privilege and the spousal testimonial immunity mentioned above is that this privilege only protects past private conversations and other communications the spouses intended to be private and confidential. In contrast, the spousal testimonial immunity precludes someone from testifying about any matter relevant to their spouse’s case. Although this evidentiary privilege is a powerful one, there are exceptions.

California Evidence Code §§ 981-987 lists specific exceptions to the privilege of protecting confidential spousal communications:

  • Commitment proceedings
  • Competency determinations
  • Proceedings between spouses
  • Exercise of the privilege would further a or fraudulent scheme
  • Criminal cases victimizing the spouse or children
  • Criminal cases with a defendant spouse

Neshanian Law Firm Offers Effective Legal Counsel

If you have more questions about the metes and bounds of spousal evidentiary privileges, you should speak with an experienced attorney. At The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc., our legal team has experience working on various cases, including family law cases that crossover into criminal law, such as domestic violence. We are here to make sure you have quality legal advice and advocacy, so your legal rights and interests are not in danger.

Consult an experienced attorney from The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc. by calling (949) 577-7935 or completing our request form online.