When a Spouse Litigates Divorce in Bad Faith
Divorce is well-known to be a challenging process, primarily because two people who no longer want to be together must find some ability to cooperate to end their connection in a reasonable manner. Without this cooperation, every issue must be litigated and left to the court to decide. While negotiation and settlement are ideal, litigation is sometimes necessary, especially if the spouses are unable to effectively communicate, abuse is present, or each side’s position are directly in opposition to each other. Anyone with experience in the legal system knows the time, unpredictability and expense litigation brings, so this avenue to ending a marriage is rarely the best choice. However, some spouses are determined to vent every little issue, and bring it the judge’s attention for his/her ruling. While each spouse has a right to pursue all their legal remedies, at what point does a party pursuing litigation become a form of harassment and rise to the level of bad faith? Further, what can the other spouse do to bring an end to this situation? A discussion of the options a spouse encountering aggressive litigation tactics can use to halt this line of behavior will follow below.
Why Prolong the Divorce?
Divorce is an inherently emotional experience and can provoke various responses in different people, including a desire to drag the case on as long as possible in an effort to punish the other side. While intense divorce litigation may seem unnecessary and perhaps a form of harassment from the outside, as mentioned above, each side is entitled to pursue his/her case as persistently as possible. Thus, the real question becomes when is litigation legitimate, and when is it unreasonable and frivolous? Typically, the line is drawn when a spouse files motions or other requests for no relevant reason, or actively seeks to alter the outcome of the case by hiding information, providing false information, or failing to respond to requests from the other side, despite court instruction to do so. One example of an unusual situation of bad faith involved the current Broward Clerk of Courts, who was sanctioned for claiming her husband was mentally incapacitated and needed a guardian, one day after he filed for divorce.
Responses to Unnecessary Litigation
Florida law permits a party to divorce to ask for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs if one side is engaging in unreasonable acts. Previous court decisions have fleshed out how courts should view these requests, and what the parameters are for granting them. First and foremost, courts should look at how to promote justice and ensure the fairness between the parties. To this end, courts are encouraged to interpret the statute liberally, meaning to allow attorney’s fees when appropriate and not be overly restrictive in granting these requests. Some factors judges are supposed to consider include:
- The scope and history of the litigation;
- How long the litigation has lasted;
- The merits of each spouse’s claims;
- Whether the legal positions of one party are designed to harass, delay, or frustrate the other spouse; and
- The existence of prior or pending claims.
In addition, the fees must be reasonable, which can become contested, and a court can reduce the requested amount if it finds the fees requested do not match the work performed.
Get Legal Advice
Divorce is complicated and having a spouse keen to engage in litigation and conflict only increases the complexity. If you have questions about your divorce, talk to the attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. for advice on how to proceed. Our experience will help you find a fair outcome, including attorney’s fees, if appropriate. Contact the Fort Lauderdale divorce law firm at (954) 467-6656 for a free consultation.