When deciding to proceed by way of the courts, it is important for individuals to recognize that compliance with court orders is not a matter of choice. Whether one likes the court’s judgment or not, strict compliance will be expected.
The case of Peers v. Poupore is a great example of the fact that there are serious repercussions for deliberate and consistent non-compliance with court orders.
On January 18, 2011, orders were made at trial which varied previous consent orders, based upon material changes in circumstance, namely that the mother was repeatedly and consistently in breach of the orders by preventing the father from having access with their 7 year-old child. Furthermore, there was evidence that the mother was incapable of meeting anything beyond the child’s basic physical needs.
The trial court ordered that the mother was to have limited and supervised access with the parties’ 7 year-old child, every other week for two hours. The mother was not to have any other access with the child. Custody of the child was also changed from the mother to the father.
The mother, however, consistently breached the trial court’s order through various actions including unpermitted visits to the child’s school.
On August 10, 2011 the father commenced an Application to obtain a restraining order against the mother, preventing her from contacting the child, which was granted on a temporary basis in November 2011, and on a final basis in December of the same year.
In September 2011, the father brought a motion to change the trial court’s order, which included a claim that the mother should be found in contempt. The court heard both claims separately.
Pursuant to the motion to change, the court found that on a go-forward basis, the mother was to have absolutely no access whatsoever with the child.
The father’s contempt motion was heard by way of Affidavit evidence, whereby the mother alleged that she had continued to breach the trial court’s order for supervised access only, because she did not understand the order, as her counsel at the time did not properly explain the terms.
The court found the mother’s submissions to be unbelievable. Evidence was submitted confirming that when the mother contacted the child at his school, she repeatedly advised the child not to tell anyone that she was doing so.
On addressing the contempt motion, the court looked to Rule 31 of the Family Law Rules, which states that orders other than payment orders, can be enforced by way of a contempt motion. O. Reg. 114/99, r. 31 (1).
Despite recognizing a clear authority to find a litigant in contempt, the court went on to recognize that this authority is qualified as being of a last resort, to be used in exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to send a message to a litigant that compliance with court orders is not optional.
The court made note of the fact that the mother had repeatedly disregarded orders throughout the litigation, thereby causing the matter to repeatedly be brought before the court.
The court went on to make note of the risk to the legal system as a whole, where individuals are able to blatantly disregard court orders without sanction. This was recognized as a particular concern in family law matters, as parents may often assert that they know what is best for their children, notwithstanding what a court has ordered.
In order to establish contempt, the father had the onus of establishing the following requirements:
- there is a court order to be enforced;
- the terms of that order are clear and unambiguous;
- the party was given proper notice of the terms of the order;
- there has been a disobedience of that court order; and
- the fact of the order’s existence was within the knowledge of the party at the time of the alleged breach.
Using the above noted analysis, the court determined that the mother was, in fact, in contempt of the trial order dated January 18, 2011.
There is a wide range of penalties that the court has the authority to impose as a result of a finding of contempt. The court ordered the mother to 30 days incarceration, which was suspended on the condition that for a period of 3 years, she does not breach any court order.
This case is a clear example of the court’s unwillingness to tolerate repeated, and deliberate disregard for court orders. Although contempt findings are to be used for exceptional circumstances, if one finds themselves subject to a contempt claim, one faces the possibility of severe sanction.