Once someone separates from an abusive spouse/partner, the abuser may try to keep power and control over the victim by misusing the court system against the victim. For example, filing repeated petitions or motions, requesting many adjournments, appealing the judge’s orders without a legal basis to do so, or taking other actions that make the victim repeatedly come to court. Sometimes this type of behavior is called “litigation abuse.”
Unfortunately, litigation abuse is challenging to deal with because it is hard to limit someone’s right to file in court. If your state has a law that specifically allows for it, such as these laws in Washington, Idaho, and Tennessee, the judge might be more willing to issue an order restricting a person’s right to file. If you are facing litigation abuse, you may want to try proving to the judge that the cases the abuser keeps bringing are not based on a good reason (are “without merit”) and are filed instead to harass you. Sometimes, a judge may issue an order that will help to limit the litigation abuse or its effects by:
- ordering the party bringing the excessive motions to pay your court costs and attorney’s fees;
- ordering the party who files meaningless motions to reimburse your lost wages and other expenses caused by having to repeatedly come to court;
- excusing you from appearing at court hearings or letting you appear by telephone;
- ordering that no motions or petitions can be filed, or that no court appearances may be scheduled, without the judge’s prior approval; or
- denying adjournment requests for excessive or unnecessary delay.
Litigation abuse often takes place in divorces or other complex court cases that allow discovery, which is the exchange of documents and information between the parties before trial. To read more about litigation abuse during the discovery process, go to What if the abuser is using discovery as an abuse tactic? in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.
Another possible way that you may prevent an abuser from continuing to take you to court is by filing a motion asking that the abuser be ordered to pay your attorney’s fees each and every time the abuser loses the motion, petition, or other case brought against you. Sometimes, this sort of financial penalty can be enough of an incentive to discourage multiple lawsuits. Hopefully a lawyer can walk you through the process of filing such a motion to the judge to make these sort of requests, if this is something you want to do.
We link to free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page if you want to get specific advice about your situation.