Vexatious Litigation Ruling in Family Law in California

In California, vexatious litigation is a term used to describe a legal action brought by a person for the primary purpose of harassing or causing unnecessary expense to the other party. Under California law, a person can be declared a vexatious litigant if they file five or more lawsuits that are found to be without merit or are frivolous. For example, a man named Lawrence Bittaker was convicted of heinous crimes. While in jail, he famously filed over 40 lawsuits, one of which was because he was served a broken cookie. 

With examples like the one we just mentioned, the plaintiff represented themselves. They filed litigation against another person, party, or entity. Typically, vexatious litigation centers around these “pro se” cases where a person represents themselves. However, they can extend to situations where a lawyer is involved, but they facilitate the clients’ requests without adequately applying the law or giving them appropriate legal guidance. 

How It Applies to Family Law

It is essential to establish that these only apply to civil litigation, and this does not apply in criminal court. In the context of family law, when a person is declared a vexatious litigant, they may be required to get permission from the court before filing any new lawsuits or other legal actions. This could include divorce, child custody, and child support proceedings. Even after a case has concluded, one spouse may be able to barrage the other with post-judgment modifications. These are mainly meant to attack to harass the other person as opposed to using the court as a third-party neutral to settle a dispute. 

Suppose a party in a family law case is deemed a vexatious litigant. In that case, the court may issue an order limiting their ability to file new legal actions without the court’s permission. The court maintains a list of these litigants that is updated monthly. You can view it here. The purpose of the added step is to prevent the vexatious litigant from continuing to harass their former spouse or to force them to spend money to combat meaningless litigation. For this reason, a vexatious litigant can also be someone who repeatedly attempts to file against their spouse under the same conditions while using the same facts. 

The court may also order the spouse who keeps filing to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees and court costs associated with defending against frivolous legal actions. This can be a significant financial burden on the vexatious litigant and serve as a deterrent against further harassment. The process of declaring someone a vexatious litigant is not automatic and requires a court order. The court must carefully consider the facts and circumstances of each case before making a determination.

Getting On & Off the List

When you receive continual and repeated frivolous lawsuits, you (and your attorney) can file a motion to have the other person or party declared vexatious. If your spouse is added to the list, any additional litigation they file must be done with an attorney, or they must get permission from the court before they file against their former spouse. 

In California, the Judicial Council sends the list of vexatious litigants to court clerks. Although you can have your name removed from it, you need to reach out to legal counsel. The court that issued the original order must send another order to vacate the previous one. 

Many of these issues are rooted in people trying to attack their spouses through the court system or proceeding without proper legal guidance. At Empower Law Group, we don’t believe that either can lead to a healthy, long-term relationship—which you should strive for with your co-parent when children are involved. If you have further questions, contact our office to schedule your consultation. 

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Empower Law Group

My practice is entirely focused on helping families and children navigate the sometimes complex and often confusing world of family law, guardianships, domestic violence, reunification, and litigation. I bring compassion to my work and am dedicated to finding the proper resolution for you and your particular family law dilemma. I am accessible and meticulous about ensuring you receive the attention you deserve. We aim to empower you to create the next great chapter of your life.

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