Prevention Of Abusive Litigation Between Intimate Partners
Many survivors of abuse experience continuing and extensive court litigation by their former intimate partner as a form of control, intimidation, or harassment that, at its worse, can span years, even decades. The WA State legislature enacted statutes (Chapter 26.51 RCW), effective January 1, 2021, aimed to prevent abusive litigation between intimate partners and protect domestic violence survivors from abusive litigation. The legislature made the following findings (RCW 26.51.010), in summary, when enacting this law:
- Individuals who abuse their intimate partners often misuse court proceedings in order to control, harass, intimidate, coerce, and/or impoverish the abused partner. Court proceedings can provide a means for an abuser to exert and reestablish power and control. The legal system unwittingly becomes another avenue that abusers exploit to cause psychological, emotional, and financial devastation.
- Abusive litigation against domestic violence survivors arises in a variety of contexts. Family law cases such as dissolutions, legal separations, parenting plan actions or modifications, and protection order proceedings are particularly common forums for abusive litigation.
- The legislature intends to provide the courts with an additional tool to curb abusive litigation and to mitigate the harms abusive litigation perpetuates.
“Abusive litigation” is defined (RCW 26.51.030) as litigation where:
- Parties to the action are current or former intimate partners.
- The filing or initiating party has been found by a court to have committed domestic violence via a domestic violence protection order, parenting plan with restrictions under RCW 26.09.191, or a restraining order involving domestic violence in a family law case.
- Litigation is being advanced or continued for harassment, intimidation, or maintaining contact.
- Allegations in the litigation are not supported by the law, are without existence of supporting evidence, or have already been decided unfavorably to the filing party by a court.
Under this law, a party facing abusive litigation may request an order restricting the abusive party’s actions in court. Such a request can also be made within five years of a protection order even if it has since expired. RCW 26.51.030.
Litigation shall be dismissed, denied, stricken, or otherwise disposed of with prejudice if the court determines a party is engaging in abusive litigation. The court shall also enter an “order restricting abusive litigation”, to include award of reasonable attorneys’ fees and imposition of prefiling restrictions upon the party found to have engaged in abusive litigation so that they must seek permission to file actions with the court. RCW 26.51.060.
You should seek legal advice and consult with any attorney if you believe you are being subjected to abusive litigation to assist in seeking protection available, now explicitly under this law.