In this case, the court discussed the issue of a party being found in contempt of court and what the appropriate penalty is.
The parties had a brief relationship which lasted less than two years. They are the parents of one child. On November 23, 2018, the Mother obtained the following order from court: "The [Father] shall disclose to the [Mother] any and all IP addresses, cell phone numbers and email addresses the [Father] owns, uses, or to which he has access for his own use with respect to communication to or about the [Mother]"
In August 2020, the father was found in contempt of court for failing to follow the above Order. Subsequently, the father was given one last opportunity to purge his contempt by following the Order by a newly set deadline. The father did not comply.
The mother brought a motion regarding the penalty and cost to be imposed on the father rising from his finding of contempt of court.
The issue before the court was as follows:
a. What is an appropriate penalty?
b. Costs to be paid by the Father.
The court cited Rule 31(5) of the Family Law Rules which states that if a Court finds a person in contempt, it may order the following:
- be imprisoned for any period and on any conditions that are just;
- pay a fine in any amount that is appropriate;
- pay an amount to a party as a penalty;
- do anything else that the Court decides is appropriate;
- not do what the Court forbids;
- pay costs in an amount decided by the Court; and
- obey any other order.
The court iterated that a court order is not a suggestion and that there are consequences for non-compliance.
The mother sought, among others, an imprisonment for a period of three days and a payment of a fine in the amount of $5,000.
The court stated that the factors to consider when determining an appropriate sentence in civil contempt matters are as follows:
- the available sentences;
- the proportionality of the sentence to the wrongdoing;
- the similarity of sentences in like circumstances;
- the presence of mitigating factors;
- the presence of aggravating factors;
- the reasonableness of a fine; and
- the reasonableness of incarceration.
The court found that an appropriate penalty was a payment of a fine in the amount of $2,500.
The court opined that while any breach of a court order is serious, the breach of not providing IP addresses is less serious than other potential breaches. Further, the court noted that a refusal to provide financial disclosure is distinguishable from this case in that the former is a more serious breach. With respect to possibility of incarceration, the court stated that incarceration in the circumstances of this case is not warranted as incarceration is only reasonable where the lesser restrictive sanctions are not appropriate.
In addition to the abovementioned penalty amount, the court also ordered costs against the father of $5,500. Aside from the Order regarding penalty, the court also considered the issue of costs associated with this motion. The court noted that one of the purposes of ordering costs is to discourage and sanction inappropriate behaviour by litigants. Given that the father’s behaviour throughout the proceedings have been inappropriate and he did not appear to be concerned about complying with a court order, the court found that his behaviour needed to be discouraged and sanctioned.
This case reminds us the importance of complying with a court order. It is not a suggestion and there are serious consequences in the event of non-compliance. It is important to seek a lawyer who can appropriately guide you through your matrimonial proceeding.
For more information, please call us at Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. or contact our firm online.