Divorces can often be acrimonious. Many people in the middle of a divorce feel the need to punish their former partner for any real or imagined slights. Unfortunately, some spouses attempt to use the legal system to exact their revenge, by filing motion after motion for the sole purpose of frustrating their ex.
When a person files frivolous motions or requests hearings with no legal basis, they are often termed a “vexatious litigant.” In some states, like California, vexatious litigants are placed onto a public list so that judges and attorneys know who has been filing cases for no reason. In other states, like Washington, a judge may declare a person to be a vexatious litigant after that person files multiple frivolous cases or motions inside of a particular court.
While most people in a divorce case do not take the step of filing multiple unrelated cases in order to vex their former spouse, some spouses—especially those acting pro se—may file several motions or legal requests in the divorce case for no reason other than to annoy their ex or cost them money in attorneys’ fees. When this happens, people who are the victim of this type of legal abuse have several options.
First, people who believe their ex is a vexatious litigant must speak with their attorney. Just because a case has been going on for a long time, or has hundreds of docket entries does not mean that the other person is abusing the legal system.
If, however, a spouse’s attorney agrees that the other person is filing motions inappropriately, there are several steps which can be taken. The attorney can file a motion of his or her own, asking the judge to strike, or get rid of, whatever pleading the ex-spouse filed. If the judge agrees that the motion has no merit, then the judge can remove it.
An attorney can also file a motion for contempt, or a motion for sanctions. If a person has been warned by the judge to stop filing frivolous pleadings, then disobeying this command could lead to serious legal consequences. For instance, a person who has a habit of filing baseless documents may be required to have any future pleadings reviewed by an attorney before they can be filed.
If the judge believes that a person is filing multiple motions or requests for the sole purpose of running up his or her ex’s legal bills, the judge can order that person to pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees. In extreme cases, the person filing the motion can be held in contempt and forced to pay fines, or even spend time in jail.
Judges will assume that most parties (and their attorneys) are acting in good faith, and have an actual legal basis for their motions or requests. When it becomes clear that this is not the case, judges will often act. Just as an ex-spouse does not appreciate attending hearings on baseless matters, judges also do not like it when parties waste their time. If you believe that your ex is using the legal system to harass you, your attorney can help you hold him or her responsible.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys are experienced with handling all types of family law matters, and will help you stand up for yourself in court. If you need help dealing with your divorce or a child custody matter, schedule an appointment to speak with our Washington State family law attorneys today by calling 509-572-3700.