Van de Mierden v. Van de Mierden: Contempt of Court in Family Matters
This case deals with being in contempt of court, but in a family law context. Being in contempt of court means to disobey an Order made by the Honourable Court that works to defy the dignity and authority of the Court. With this said, the husband in this case breached several Orders made by the Court, and hence he was in contempt of Court.
The husband was given 60 days to provide disclosure and information that was required to determine child support. The opposing counsel requested three Orders of disclosure documents, and the husband did not provide the above. The opposing counsel provided an extension for the husband, and the husband failed to comply with all the orders. It should be noted that all the Orders referred to were made on consent, which means the mother did not arbitrarily impose the terms of the Orders on the husband.
The mother decided to bring to the Court’s attention that her husband failed to comply with the various Orders, and she asked the Honourable Court to find that her husband was in contempt. However, the mother decided to adjourn her claim of contempt and came up with another Order that the father was to follow.
The issue before the court was whether the latest Order made by the mother replaces the former breached Orders, and hence the latest Order that has been complied with by the husband negates all earlier breached Orders. The mother argued that the compliance of the latest Order does not cancel out all the former breached Orders. Instead, the single complied order could only be used to affect the penalty of contempt of Court, and not abolish the contempt.
The criteria for being in contempt of court includes:
- the breached Order should state clearly what should and should not be done
- the party who disobeys the Order must do so deliberately, and
- the evidence must show contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court was not impressed with the husband’s failure to provide a reasonable explanation for his misconduct. Moreover, the Court loathes such actions because they cause undue delay that prejudices the other party. Also, such breaches that pass without consequence in the Court may bring the whole administration of justice into disrepute and undermine the dignity of the Court.
The Court did find that the husband was in contempt, but his compliance with the latest Order only went towards assessing the penalty for the other breached Court Orders. The moral of the case at bar is that when counsel is replacing one Order with another, counsel should be unequivocal in drafting of further Orders in stating that any additional Orders even if complied with will not cancel out or act as a means of relief for former breached Orders. At the end of the day, the Court found that there was contempt, and the husband was to pay the wife $8,500.00 as a penalty for his contempt.