Vexatious Litigants in Family Law Disputes


A woman who had unsuccessfully filed applications for custody and related matters in three different jurisdictions was recently deemed to be a vexatious litigant and prohibited from filing any more legal actions (family law related or otherwise) in Ontario.

What Happened?

The parties were married in Toronto in 1992 and had one child, a son. They moved to California and eventually divorced in 2007. The California divorce proceedings addressed all outstanding issues stemming from the breakdown in the marriage including custody, access, child support, spousal support, and division of assets. A court order initially awarded the wife monthly spousal support payments which were later reduced to zero at the husband’s request, with the court terminating its jurisdiction over that issue. The father was granted sole custody of the son.

A California court declared the wife a vexatious litigant in 2010, and issued an order prohibiting her from filing any new litigation in California.

Applications Filed in Numerous Jurisdictions

The parties eventually moved- the wife to Ontario and the husband to New York State. In 2013, the wife filed an application for an order directing the husband to pay her more than $6,500 monthly in spousal support. A New York court found that it did not have jurisdiction to modify the California court’s spousal support order which had terminated the wife’s spousal support payments. The wife’s application was dismissed.

The wife appealed this dismissal to the Supreme Court of the State of New York. That court affirmed the lower court’s finding that the issue of spousal support had been fully explored and decided on by the California court and agreed that the wife was therefore barred from trying to re-open this issue in New York.

In 2015, the wife filed a motion in Ontario for custody of the son (who was 21 years old at the time) as well as child support and section 7 expenses. The wife’s application was dismissed, she was found to be a vexatious litigant, and was prohibited from continuing, commencing, or prosecuting any litigation in any Ontario court without the permission of the Superior Court of Justice. The wife was also ordered to pay $2,500 in costs to the husband.

What is a Vexatious Litigant?

Vexatious litigants are generally individuals who harass others by filing frivolous lawsuits. Ontario law, much like the law in other jurisdictions, has recognized that some people interact with the legal system so much and in such an unmanageable manner that their access to the system must be restricted. Vexatious litigants usually advance claims or lawsuits that do not have merit, ignore previous rulings or costs orders made against them, or make multiple claims against the same parties.

A good explanation of who a vexatious litigant tends to be in found in Dobson v. Green:

Generally speaking, vexatious litigants often share common characteristics. They advance claims that are often manifestly without merit. They tend to ignore adverse rulings and procedural setbacks, such as costs orders against them. They may resort to multiple, repetitive proceedings, often against the same adversary. They will sometimes similarly engage others who present themselves as an obstacle in their path. They often launch court proceedings as if unconcerned about the financial resources invariably consumed by such actions. They tend to be litigants who, with persistence, abuse the court process for their own selfish and single-minded goals. They are typically self-represented litigants who seem intent, through a series of persistent and fruitless proceedings, on wearing down their opponents through an ongoing battle of attrition.

Such litigants can be dealt with under s. 140 of the Courts of Justice Act and the person can be prohibited, as the wife was in this case, from filing any further proceedings in any court in Ontario, unless they have the specific permission of a judge to do so.

In this case, the Ontario judge cited several factors which led her to conclude that the wife was a vexatious litigant, including:

  • The wife had brought seven motions for custody in California and all had been previously denied;
  • Since the son was now 21 years old, the application could not succeed: “no person could reasonably believe they could obtain a custody order in relation to a 21-year-old;
  • Since there was no legitimate grounds for a custody claim, the judge could “only infer the claim is made for collateral reasons, namely to harass the father”;
  • The mother continued to assert the same issues and claims regarding the son’s refusal to see her and continued to blame others for the situation in which she found herself;
  • The mother had been unsuccessful in her previous “numerous and repeated attempts” to change prior orders;
  • The criteria used in California to determine whether someone is a vexatious litigant are the same as the criteria used to make the determination in Ontario.

With more than 25 years of experience guiding husbands and wives through the stress and strain of separation and divorceJason P. Howie understands your frustrations and fears, including frustrations that come with dealing with an unreasonable or vindictive ex-spouse.  Jason has seen it all and knows that each case must be treated differently, and that no single solution will work in every situation or negotiation.  Jason will customize an approach to meet your specific needs. To arrange a meeting with one of our experienced lawyers, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online.

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