Spousal Privilege Law and Legal Definition

Spousal privilege means the right to not disclose confidential marital communications. The spousal privilege applies to any testimony of a spouse without the consent of the other so long as the parties continue to be legally married at the time of suit. It is usually asserted as a basis for not answering a question under oath. The spousal privilege recognizes that spouses are not ordinary witnesses when one is pitted against the other. A witness-spouse who voluntarily refuses to testify for or against the other spouse cannot be compelled to testify. The existence of the spousal privilege has been justified on the basis of the need to preserve marital harmony, which could be disrupted by requiring one spouse to testify for or against the other spouse when the non testifying spouse does not consent to such testimony. However, where the cause of action grows out of a personal injury or wrong done by one spouse to the other there is no just reason for preventing the victim-spouse from testifying. In such a case, the need to preserve marital harmony is no longer compelling; presumably the wrong or injury has already disrupted such harmony. It is for these reasons the spousal privilege does not apply where the cause of action grows out of a personal wrong or injury done by one spouse to the other. This exception was carved out for the benefit of the victim-spouse who wishes to testify regarding such a wrong or injury. The statutory exception to the spousal privilege is a permissive one. It allows the victim-spouse to testify against the defendant-spouse if the victim so desires.

Following is an example of a case law discussing on spousal privilege. “The spousal privilege is contained in Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2162 (Mich. Stat. Ann. § 27A.2162), and states that a husband shall not be examined as a witness for or against his wife without her consent; nor a wife for or against her husband without his consent, except in suits for divorce and in cases of prosecution for bigamy, in cases of prosecution for a crime committed against the children of either or both, and where the cause of action grows out of personal wrong or injury done by one to the other. The statute vests the privilege of precluding spousal testimony in the nonwitness-spouse. 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.”[ People v. Love, 425 Mich. 691 (Mich. 1986)].