When parties going through a divorce or separation turn to litigation to resolve their differences, the result could be a court order indicating the responsibilities and obligations of each party. It’s important to remember that court orders may seem onerous, or not important at times, but failing to abide by an order’s terms can have serious consequences. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is a good example of this.
A court order pertaining to internet activity
The parties had a brief relationship that resulted in the birth of a child in 2018. The mother left the relationship after suffering physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, and financial abuse from the father.
Following charges of criminal harassment, a court order was put in place that required the father to “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 applicant.”
The father failed to provide the information required under the court order, which was put in place in part because the mother was worried about what he may have been saying about her online. In having not received this information, she believes the father had made multiple derogatory social media posts about her on nine websites, leading to what the court described as “a great deal of stress and embarrassment.”
The father, meanwhile, said he intended to comply with the request but found it to be “vague and open to interpretation,” adding it was “nonsensical and simply cannot be complied with.” He said he could not obtain an IP address for a hotel room, which would have its own IP address. He said he provided the mother with his email addresses and phone numbers, which should be enough.
Is the breach serious enough to warrant a penalty?
In the first of two decisions (the former was included in the latter) the court first found the father guilty of being in contempt of the order and did so deliberately. The court then had to determine what the appropriate penalty should be.
The mother sought the following sanctions:
- Imprisonment for a period of three (3) days;
- Payment of a fine in the amount of $5,000.00;
- An Order that the Father shall not denigrate the Mother, make any commentary or post any pictures or videos about this case, the Mother and the child, as well as remove any such commentary, videos or pictures immediately, to the extent it is in his control to do so; and
- An Order dispensing with the Father’s consent to allow the Mother to deal directly with or obtain disclosure from any third-party record holder with respect to any online postings or commentary about the Mother or the child.
The court noted that under Rule 31(5) of the Family Law Rules, it could impose all of the sanctions sought by the mother. The court stated that a court order is not a suggestion, and there must be consequences for non-compliance. The court said the punishment must be restorative to the victim, and also punitive to the contemnor, adding it should also be proportionate to the nature of the contempt.
The court found that a financial penalty of $2,500 was more appropriate and that jail time would not be necessary. However, the court agreed with the mother’s request for an order preventing further disporting remarks.
To speak with an experienced Windsor family law lawyer about social media issues with respect to divorce, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.