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Legal bullying

Legal bullying can take many forms. The abuser may:

  • Bring repeated motions on issues that have already been decided.
  • Fail to produce documents or information required in the court proceeding.
  • Seek repeated delays for no real reason.
  • Repeatedly change lawyers.
  • Represent himself even when he has no financial need to do so.
  • Make complaints about those involved in the process (lawyers, mediators, assessors, judges, etc.).
  • Make malicious and unfounded reports about the woman.
  • Appeal decisions even when there is no possibility of success.
  • Fail to obey court orders.

His overarching goal is to maintain his control over his partner, to intimidate her, to prevent her from moving on with her life and/or to wear her down to the point that she agrees to return to him. The impacts on her can include:

  • She may have fears for her physical safety or that of her children.
  • If she has a lawyer, she may incur legal costs she cannot afford.
  • If she is unrepresented, she may have to take time away from work for additional court appearances, which could jeopardize her employment.
  • If she is unrepresented, she may have to deal with him directly, which can be both emotionally and physically unsafe.
  • She may concede on issues simply to end the contact with him.
  • She may have to undergo repeated investigations by anyone to whom he has made malicious reports.
  • If she has children, she will have to deal with the impact – direct or indirect – that the bullying has on them.
  • She may return to her ex-partner rather than put up with his legal bullying.

The very nature of family law makes it difficult to deal with legal bullying. Because family law is so open-ended, it is easy for an abuser to find ways to manipulate the system and the process.

However, there are some legal strategies for dealing with legal bullies. For example:

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  • Judges can make orders, with consequences for non-compliance, to require timely disclosure of information needed to allow a case to proceed.
  • The Courts of Justice Act, section 140, allows judges to make an order prohibiting a party from bringing further court proceedings without specific permission from the court if he has been identified as a “vexatious litigant.”
  • The Rules of Civil Procedure have two sections dealing with troublesome parties. Rule 60.11 permits a judge to make a contempt order against a party who defies court procedures or orders. Rule 57 allows a judge to order a bully to pay all the costs of the victim if he brings harassing matters in front of the court.
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