We have blogged in the past about the importance of following court orders, particularly as they relate to issues such as child support and spousal support. Not only can refusing to follow support orders result in financial penalties and a loss of access to appeals. But as we see in a recent decision from the Family Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, extreme cases of willfully ignoring court orders can result in jail time.
Father has a long history of failing to pay support
The court explained that the father’s child support debt of $247,125 accumulated between January 2007 and September 2015. In May 2013 he was given about five months to pay retroactive child support of $171,786, while also ordered to pay monthly support of $3,242 beginning on April 1, 2013.
Nine months passed after that order (during which time the father appealed, though the appeal was discontinued). A contempt application was filed after nine months, at which time the father applied to vary his child support. This application included a retroactive variance. At that hearing, it was determined that a material change in circumstances warranting a variance had not occurred, and so his application was dismissed.
The father did make some small payments of support. During nine months between the May 2013 order and the application for contempt, he paid $10,980 of the $29,178 he should have paid. In the 32 months that followed, he paid $10,941, which was equal to his obligations over just 3.5 months.
The court said the father had made only token efforts to support his children. Instead, “he foisted his obligation onto his former wife and made his children dependent on the charity of his parents.”
Are there mitigating factors to consider?
The father was said to have tried to sell his home in 2016 in order to give the mother half of the net proceeds from the sale in order to settle his retroactive support debt. However, the court noted that doing so would only have resulted in about $91,000 being made available to the mother, leaving the father with a 63% discount on his child support debt.
The father also stated that his passport was seized as a result of his failure to pay child support and that the seizure prevented him from being able to get funds to Canada from Denmark where he had been living. However, the court did not believe that this had any real impact on his ability to pay support.
The court noted that the father did show remorse. He stated that things should not have gone as far as they did. However, the court also found that there was no evidence he had ever expressed regrets until the day of the trial, which took place after he spent a month in jail.
Aggravating factors to consider
The court stated that in the five years since he was found in contempt, the father made only four support payments, totaling $3,237, an amount less than his monthly obligation.
The court heard evidence that the father owned no assets outside of the matrimonial home, but the court stated if that was the case, he has still benefited from his failure to pay because it would mean the money is gone.
Imprisonment as a penalty
The court stated that it can impose a term of imprisonment as a penalty. The court found that he owns a home with his new partner, that he moved his financial affairs offshore in 2015, and that despite being employed during the years he was in contempt, he paid very little support.
In its decision, the court said “The dullest description of his actions doesn’t disguise the depths of his disregard for the court and his children.” In order to compel his respect for the court orders and recognize the gravity of his actions, he was sentenced to a further period of 4.5 years.
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