California family law cases can be stressful. But when you have an ex-spouse or parent who is a vexatious litigant, that stress can go to another level.
Tell me if this sounds familiar? He or she keeps filing frivolous requests with the family court, causing hearing dates and you win at every one. But the person won’t stop. This process has caused you stress, money and you have had enough of it. Perhaps the family law judge has even hit him with attorney fees, which he hasn’t paid, and that hasn’t stopped this madness either.
What can you do? Just keep tolerating this and going back to court? Keep spending money on attorney fees to oppose the requests? Give in to his or her demands? Doesn’t California family law give some relief to victims in your situation?
Good news. California law’s vexatious litigant statutes give you rights to put a stop to it. You can keep your ex spouse or the other parent from ever coming back to court until what they intend to file is pre approved by the presiding judge. Sometimes, you can even require they pay money up front that will go to you if they lose. Sound interesting? Keep reading to learn more.
California’s Vexatious litigant statutes are more powerful than a family law attorney fee order
Most of the time, an attorney fee order by the family law judge against an ex-spouse or parent is enough to get him or her to stop. They get hit with thousands of dollars and the lesson is learned.
Not so much with vexatious litigants. They have a different agenda. The term “vexatious” fits them well. This isn’t just a spouse or parent who is unreasonable but (as I am sure you would tell the judge) completely out of his or her mind and hell-bent on making your life hell through the family court process. Attorney fee orders don’t scare them. Letters telling them to stop don’t work. You need to go further.
What does it take to prove a parent or ex is a vexatious litigant in California family court?
A self represented person who repeatedly files petitions, applications or motions (in family law, mostly called “requests for orders”) that are without merit can be found to be a vexatious litigant.
California Code of Civil Procedure 391(b) states:
…(b) “Vexatious litigant” means a person who does any of the following:
(1) In the immediately preceding seven-year period has commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations other than in a small claims court that have been (i) finally determined adversely to the person or (ii) unjustifiably permitted to remain pending at least two years without having been brought to trial or hearing.
(2) After a litigation has been finally determined against the person, repeatedly relitigates or attempts to relitigate, in propria persona, either (i) the validity of the determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined or (ii) the cause of action, claim, controversy, or any of the issues of fact or law, determined or concluded by the final determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined.
(3) In any litigation while acting in propria persona, repeatedly files unmeritorious motions, pleadings, or other papers, conducts unnecessary discovery, or engages in other tactics that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.
(4) Has previously been declared to be a vexatious litigant by any state or federal court of record in any action or proceeding based upon the same or substantially similar facts, transaction, or occurrence…
We have also had California family law appellate decisions give some basic parameters of what a vexatious litigant is.
How does the family court stop the vexatious litigant from filing more frivolous requests?
The family court can order the vexatious litigant to:
- Only after getting permission (called seeking “leave”) from the presiding judge to file the request;
- Only after posting a bond can the vexatious litigant file the request.
On number 1, this is a big deal. That means the person cannot just walk to the family law clerk’s window, pay a filing fee and file it.The vexatious litigant has to actually get the express permission of the presiding judge.
What if the vexatious litigant doesn’t do that? The person could be held in contempt of court.
One bit of very small bad news on this issue – if the vexatious litigant has a lawyer, the person can usually file without having to get the court’s permission. But most vexatious litigants probably won’t tell the lawyer they hire that they have been found to be one and the lawyer hired may be pretty surprised to learn it. If the lawyer still continues with the frivolous request even after being told the history, there are ways to seek sanctions (fees) against the lawyer directly.
On number 2, the great thing about the bond is it forces the vexatious litigant to put his or her money where the mouth is.
Can a vexatious litigant order be changed?
Yes, but it’s not easy. The vexatious litigant would have to show the family law judge that there has been a “material change” in the facts upon which the court’s order was granted and “the ends of justice would be served.”
The more egregious the facts that led to the order, the less likely the Family Court will set it aside later.
Is filing a vexatious litigant motion worth it?
Yes, but you must have the facts to back it up. As I write this article, we are getting ready to pursue one against a father who has filed about 17 separate requests with the court, all of which have been denied. The mother hired us for the most recent one, we looked at the case’s history and were shocked at what we saw. What’s more, the father has promised he will not stop.
In that case, we will make it stop. We can help you too.
When a parent or ex-spouse uses the California family court system to harass and intimidate you by repeatedly filing these frivolous petitions, applications or motions, California law gives you a way to stop it.
If your case is in Orange County, California or nearby counties and you want to know if a vexatious litigant motion is right for you, call us. For a reasonable fee, we will evaluate your situation and tell you if your case is a good fit for one. You don’t have to keep tolerating and defending these frivolous requests. Get proactive, get on the offensive and put a stop to it with our experienced family law attorneys at your side.