The brand new regulation targets abusive litigation by perpetrators of home violence
Some domestic violence survivors say they are mistreated in court even long after breaking ties with their partner. A new Washington law, which went into effect January 1st, seeks to stop so-called “unfair litigation”.
Catherine West is an attorney with Legal Voice advocacy group. She said a domestic violence survivor could be dragged into court by an ex-partner, allegedly to challenge a protection order or custody agreement. But, West said, the real purpose is often only to get the survivor into the courtroom.
“You have to face your former partner. It’s really a way to keep being in control, ”West said.
She said the law will not prevent people from accessing the courts. She said that unfair litigation only occurs when, for example, a person repeatedly files motions in different courts or in front of different judges for an extra hearing after a judge has already ruled on a number of facts.
“It is really then that it has crossed the line of wasting judgment time and really pestering the survivor,” she said.
Survivors like Amber Rosewood told lawmakers during a hearing last year that the experience of continually going to court was exhausting and financially stressful.
“And because this is still years after the abuse, I can’t heal and I can’t start looking at the other things he’s done to me,” Rosewood said.
The law gives judges the discretion to determine whether filing a domestic violence perpetrator against a former partner constitutes an abusive litigation.
State Senator Christine Rolfes, who sponsored the legislation that created the law, said she decided to introduce it after hearing from a voter, a domestic violence survivor, who was “through an abusive lawsuit by her ex-husband went bankrupt “As she broke the issue, more victims came forward to tell their stories.
Now that the law is in place, advocates say the challenge during the pandemic is to educate domestic violence survivors and judges in the state. Washington is one of the first states to pass such a law.