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Legal Information: General

Litigation Abuse

Litigation Abuse

On this page, you will find general information about litigation abuse. Please select your state in the drop-down menu above to see what specific laws about abusive litigation may exist in your state.

What is litigation abuse?

Once someone separates from an abusive spouse or partner, the abuser may try to keep power and control 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, serving inappropriate demands, or taking other actions that make the victim repeatedly come to court. Sometimes this type of behavior is called “litigation abuse.”

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.

What can I do if the abuser is filing many petitions or motions against me?

Unfortunately, litigation abuse can be challenging to deal with because it is hard to limit someone’s right to file in court. Some states are passing specific laws to protect victims against abusive litigation because the government recognizes that abusers are often using the courts as a way to remain in contact with the victim or to continue a pattern of abuse. If your state has a law that specifically empowers a judge to address litigation abuse, 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 will help to limit 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 or electronic means;
  • 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 that cause excessive or unnecessary delay.

Even if your state does not have a specific abusive litigation law, it may be possible to demonstrate to the judge that the abuser is acting in bad faith and ask the judge to punish the abuser. For example, you may file 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 sorts of requests, if this is something you want to do.

Additionally, if your state allows you file for an order preventing litigation abuse, having an attorney represent you may be best. We link to free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page if you want to get specific advice about your situation.