Are Secretly Recorded Conversations Admissible in California Family Court?

If you are thinking about secretly recording private conversations with your spouse or another party to use as evidence in your family law case, don’t. Recording a conversation without the other party’s consent is against state and federal law. These recordings also are not admissible in the California family courts. It is much better to use other sources of evidence against your spouse – if necessary – to avoid serious legal consequences from secretly recording someone.

State and Federal Laws Against Recording Private Conversations

Although laws change from state to state, in California, it is against the law to record someone without that person’s knowledge or consent. According to California Penal Code Section 632, California is a two-party state, meaning that both parties being recorded must consent to the recording. Otherwise, recording a confidential conversation – one that does not involve any third parties – is unlawful and can lead to criminal charges and penalties. Note that if the conversation happens in a public place, however, this law may not apply.

Furthermore, secretly recorded conversations are not admissible as evidence in a California family court. During your Sacramento divorce case, for instance, you will not legally be allowed to submit a recording of your spouse that you took without his or her permission as evidence that he or she is abusive or lying. The courts will refuse to consider the recording as evidence. Thus, taking audio or video recordings of someone without their permission could get you into legal trouble without being of any use or benefit to you.

What Penalties Are Associated With Secretly Recording a Conversation?

Under state law, if you secretly record your spouse or another person in the hopes of documenting harassment, lies, hidden assets, domestic violence or other issues for a family law case, you could face criminal charges. Secret recordings are against the law in California and can lead to misdemeanor or felony charges. This includes recording phone conversations. If you are found guilty of this crime, you could face:

  • A fine of up to $2,500
  • Up to a year in jail or state prison
  • Civil penalties of up to $3,000 or three times the amount of actual damages suffered by the victim
  • A permanent criminal record
  • Mandatory community service

If you have previously been convicted of this or a similar crime in California, the penalties can increase to up to $10,000 in fines per violation and/or a year in jail. There is also a federal law against recording private conversations without consent or legal authority, known as the Federal Wiretap Act. Violating this federal law could result in up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $500.

What Should You Do to Support Your Case Instead?

As you can see, secretly recording a private conversation is not worth the risk – especially since you legally cannot use it as evidence in your family law case, anyway. Instead of taking secret recordings, support your case with lawfully obtained and admissible evidence.

Since California is a no-fault state, meaning you do not need to prove a reason for your divorce, you may not need much evidence to resolve your legal matter. If you do need evidence to push for a certain outcome, however, hire a family law attorney in Sacramento to help you collect valid proof, such as:

  • Police reports
  • Witness statements
  • Character evidence
  • Expert testimony
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Medical records
  • Financial documents
  • Business records
  • Photographs and (lawfully recorded) videos

An experienced family law attorney can make phone calls and file subpoenas to protect and preserve key evidence to use in your case. Then, your lawyer can present this evidence in a compelling way during settlement negotiations, mediation or a family law trial. If you have already made secret recordings of a private conversation, a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself from criminal penalties. Contact Boyd Law today to speak to a Sacramento family law attorney during a confidential initial consultation.