Attorneys’ Fees for Vexatious Litigation
Attorneys’ fees may be awarded as a punitive measure in response to one party’s litigation of frivolous or non-meritorious claims. Additionally, a court may consider violations of court orders as a basis for limiting or denying a fee award regardless of need and ability to pay. For example, if one party deliberately interferes with the visitation of another party in violation of a court order, that party may be required to pay the attorneys’ fees of the other party, regardless of need and ability to pay.
A party’s financial condition should not shield them from the consequences of their conduct within the judicial system. When a party abuses the legal system or engages in conduct, which results in needless litigation and legal fees, that party should be responsible for their own fees and possibly the fees of the other party. The party’s financial condition, whether financially prosperous or destitute, is not a factor to be considered when determining fees for frivolous or non-meritorious claims.
In family law and divorce cases, a court cannot deny a claim for fees solely based on the failure to accept an offer to settle. However, the court may consider the settlement offers that were conveyed when making a determination as to whether to award attorneys’ fees. In cases where the court finds that the litigation was prolonged due to one party’s unreasonable refusal to accept a reasonable settlement offer, that party must bear the risk of rejecting such an offer. For example, if the Wife rejected a pretrial offer that provided for equitable distribution that was $20,000 more favorable to her than what she ultimately received at trial, the court may reduce the amount of attorneys’ fees she has requested by the amount expended pursuing that claim after the settlement offer was conveyed.