Updated December 2016

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What Is “Abusive Litigation”?


When someone exploits the legal system to assert power and control over you, he or she is engaging in abusive litigation.


Even if you have left your abuser, he or she can inflict psychological, emotional, and financial harm by taking you—and even your friends and relatives—to court again and again.



What Counts as Abusive Litigation?


Abusive litigation can take a variety of forms and can arise in a number of different contexts, including family law proceedings, protection order proceedings, and frivolous lawsuits initiated by batterers.


Common abusive litigation tactics include:

  • Seeking a protection order against you or your friends or family.

  • Waging custody battles.

  • Filing contempt motions against you for no reason.

  • Portraying you as an unfit parent and/or requesting mental health evaluations.

  • Filing frivolous motions, appeals, motions for revision, or motions for reconsideration, forcing you to meet in court, and spend time and money.

  • Attempting to bring issues that have already been decided back into court (“relitigate”).

  • Attempting to relitigate cases in other jurisdictions.

  • Making burdensome discovery requests and/or using the discovery process to bring up embarrassing or irrelevant information about you.

  • Prolonging court proceedings to inflict financial and/or emotional harm.

  • Refusing to comply with court orders, forcing you to spend time and money to enforce the orders.

  • Threatening to report you to immigration authorities.

  • Making false reports to Child Protective Services (CPS).

  • Falsely claiming you abuse drugs or alcohol.

  • Suing you for reporting abuse.

  • Suing or threatening to sue anyone who helps you, including family, friends, advocates, attorneys, and law enforcement officers.

  • Filing complaints against the judge or your lawyer.



Can Abusive Litigation Be Stopped?


Judges who recognize that abusive litigation is taking place in their courtrooms have a number of means to address the issue. For example, a court can

  • Prohibit abusive litigants from filing new lawsuits without the court’s authorization.

  • Impose conditions on—or prohibit—appeals.

  • Limit the number of allowable court filings.

  • Limit the scope of discovery.

  • Require abusive litigants to post a bond for lawyers’ fees.

  • Impose sanctions.



What Can I Do to Make It Stop?


If you are experiencing abusive litigation, notify the court and ask the court to take action. If the judge is not familiar with abusive litigation, you may want to refer him or her to the Domestic Violence Manual for Judges. Appendix H, “Abusive Litigation and Domestic Violence Survivors,” at the end of this manual, has extensive information about this topic. See Resources below.




This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.

This information is current as of December 2016. Written by Erica Franklin, 12/2016. © 2017 Legal Voice

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


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