Vexatious Litigants in Family Law / by Cassandra Hearn

Family law is notorious for generating negative feelings between the parties. This is no surprise, as these cases typically involve exceedingly sensitive issues. As a result, some parties unfortunately decide to use the legal system to attempt to “punish” their former spouse or significant other for his or her behavior by filing motion after motion for the specific reason of hurting or frustrating the former partner. If this occurs, it may be possible for a victim spouse or former partner to request that the filing party be declared a “vexatious litigant.”

 A “vexatious litigant” is a legal term under California Code of Civil Procedure §391(b). There are very specific requirements in order to determine that a party is a vexatious litigant. These requirements fall under four different categories. Under the first, if the party has filed at least 5 actions in the last seven years, and has lost those actions, he or she may be determined to be vexatious. In the alternative, if the party has allowed the case to remain unjustifiably open for at least two years, this could also qualify. Under the second way, the person may be a vexatious litigant if the person has lost a case and continues to attempt to litigate or re-litigate the same issues. Third, and most commonly found in family cases, is when the person repeatedly files frivolous motions or pleadings or “engages in other tactics that are frivolous” or if they are solely intended to delay the case. Fourth, if the person has already been found by another court to be a vexatious litigant in a proceeding based on the same or similar facts.

 In California, if the person is determined to be a vexatious litigant, his or her name will go on a public list. In addition, before the person is permitted to file a new motion or action, he or she must receive permission from the judge. What this means is that the person can no longer simply pay a filing fee at the clerk’s window before filing a petition or motion; he or she must go before a judge and receive specific permission. The person must also usually post a bond. If the litigant fails to take these steps, the court may use its contempt powers and assess fines or attorney’s fees against him or her.

 Family law cases are stressful, and you should not have to deal with a former spouse or significant other who is trying to use the legal system to bully you. Call us today at 619-800-0384 and let us talk with you about your case and how we can help protect you from frivolous court cases.