Harassment by an ex-partner can take many forms. Name-calling, threats, stalking, and physical violence are unfortunately common when spouses are going through separation and divorce. Another form of harassment is the misuse of the courts to torment a former spouse. You can stop your spouse if they are using the legal system to harass or abuse you.
What does harassment in family court look like?
There are several ways your ex may try to use the courts to harass you. Examples of misuse of the courts that can amount to harassment include:
Continually bringing court applications that are trivial, lack merit, are brought in the wrong
court, disregard other court orders, etc.
Making false allegations against you. For example, falsely alleging that you are denying
parenting time or you have hurt the children.
Embarrassing you in court by talking about your physical or mental health if it is not relevant to
the issues to be decided in the family court case or by attaching embarrassing and
compromising photographs or private text messages to affidavits filed with the court.
Misusing court processes and/or sending excessive communications and documents through
your lawyer to drive up your legal fees.
Making false accusations about you to the police or the Ministry of Children & Family Development.
If your ex-spouse is using the legal system to harass you, it is highly recommended that you contact an experienced family lawyer right away so steps can be taken to attempt to stop the abuse.
How can harassment in family court be stopped?
There are options if your ex-partner is harassing you outside of the courts, including police intervention and a restraining order. Harassment in the courts can be stopped by using s. 221 of the Family Law Act and/or s. 18 of BC’s Supreme Court Act. Ms. Little recently relied on s. 221 of the Family Law Act to successfully argue that the ex-spouse of her client was using the justice system as a weapon to continue to harass her by continually bringing court applications ( over 36 in a 2 year period) and in many cases, failed to show up for the hearing date. The Judge ordered that the ex-spouse could not file any more applications without first obtaining permission of the Judge to file the application. In an attempt to stop the harassing behaviour of the ex-spouse, the Judge determined it was appropriate to insist that the Judge must vet any future applications before the Court Registry will even accept the filing.
Relief from misuse of court process under the Family Law Act
An order under s. 221 of the Family Law Act can be made if the Judge is satisfied that a party has made an application that is trivial or is conducting a proceeding in a manner that frustrates or misuses the court process:
221(1) A court may make an order prohibiting a party from making further applications or continuing a proceeding without leave of the court if satisfied that the party
(a) has made an application that is trivial,
(b) is conducting a proceeding in a manner that is a misuse of the court process, or
(c) is otherwise acting in a manner that frustrates or misuses the court process.
(2) If an order is made under subsection (1), the court may do one or more of the following:
(a) make the order apply
(i) for a specified period of time, or
(ii) until the party has complied with an order made under this Act;
(b) impose any terms and conditions respecting the granting of leave to make further
applications or to continue a proceeding;
(c) require the party to pay
(i) the other party for all or part of the expenses reasonably and necessarily incurred as a result of the party's actions, including fees and expenses related to family dispute resolution,
(ii) an amount not exceeding $5 000 to or for the benefit of the other party,
or a spouse or child whose interests were affected by the party's actions, or
(iii) a fine not exceeding $5 000.
As can be seen from the full text of s. 221 specified above, a Judge has several options to deal with a party who is using the legal system to harass their ex-partner. The Judge can prohibit the harassing party from making any other applications without the court’s permission, dismiss the harassing party’s court applications altogether, order the harassing party to pay you costs to offset expenses involved with
responding to their applications, and/or impose a fine up to $5,000.
Relief from vexatious proceedings under s. 18 of the Supreme Court Act
Sometimes, the Judge can declare a harassing ex spouse to be a vexatious litigant. A vexatious litigant is someone who repeatedly files unfounded legal actions for improper purposes which could include harassment. Section 18 of BC’s Supreme Court Act sets out the courts’ power to deal with vexatious proceedings:
18 If, on application by any person, the court is satisfied that a person has habitually, persistently and without reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious legal proceedings in the Supreme Court or in the Provincial Court against the same or different persons, the court may, after hearing that person or giving him or her an opportunity to be heard, order that a legal proceeding must not, without leave of the court, be instituted by that person in any court.
The relief available under s. 18 of the Supreme Court Act is broad, as it can extend to all legal proceedings generally, as opposed to “further applications or continuing a proceeding” under s. 221 of the Family Law Act. However, the test for relief under s. 18 is more stringent than the test required for an order under s. 221. The former requires evidence that a person has “habitually, persistently and without reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious legal proceedings” while the test for the latter only requires evidence that a party “is conducting a proceeding in a manner that is a misuse of the court
Talk to a professional about ex spouse harassment laws Canada
Access to justice is an important right in Canadian law, but the abuse of this right will be subject to restrictions and sanctions if the courts are used for an ulterior purpose other than legitimately addressing valid outstanding legal issues between parties to a family law dispute.
If you are being harassed by your ex-partner, Valerie M. Little Law Corporationis a great resource. Valerie knows that nothing is more valuable than family—and because your family is important to you, protecting you and your family is important to her.
Valerie will do everything to protect your family and defend your rights. She understands that no two situations are identical and she we get to know your personal situation so she can tailor her legal knowledge and experience to best represent your unique needs.