It’s clear to most people that it’s very important to comply with court orders when going through a trial, or following the orders that come from a court’s decision. However, not everybody does so. A recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice serves as a good reminder of just how serious the consequences of ignoring a court order can be.
A history of neglecting orders
The parties involved were working through a divorce before the courts. Leading up to the current hearing, there had been a number of instances where the husband failed to follow orders set by the court. As a result, the wife brought a motion to strike the husband’s pleaders, which would result in him being barred from any further participation in the trial.
The wife had already brought a similar application in November 2016. At that time, the husband had failed to disclose financial records to the wife. The court gave him seven days to comply. He failed to do so and was found to be in breach of his obligations for disclosure. This happened again on April 25, 2017, February 7, 2018, and February 26, 2018. During the instances in February, the court released funds being held in order for the husband to pay a lawyer and accountant in order to satisfy the orders.
This time around, the wife argued “there is no room to allow (the husband) the ability to continue fighting this case when he has continued his various breaches of the orders in question.”
The court explained that a motion to strike can be made under Rule 1(8)(c) of the province’s Family Law Rules. The court emphasized the seriousness of the remedy being sought, stating “This is a serious remedy; it removes a party from the litigation and prevents that party from having his or her side of the story placed before the court. The court must use caution in doing so, especially on the eve of trial.”
That said, the court also highlighted the seriousness of the husband’s failure to comply with court orders, writing “(The husband) has filed no material in opposition to the motion. He did not provide proof that he had requested the income tax returns or information as to the released funds as allowed for by (the judge). He acknowledges that he continues to be in default of the various court orders in this matter both for disclosure and for payment of costs. However, he says that he has been extremely stressed by these proceedings and is not seeing his children. He says that he has been unable to turn his mind to the litigation or deal with it.”
The final straw
Up to this point, the court had been fairly lenient with the husband. He was provided multiple extensions to disclose his financial records. He may have continued to enjoy this leniency if he had not accidently sent the wife’s lawyer an email admitting to having not actually asked his accountant to produce his tax returns, something he had been ordered to do by the court. He had meant to send this email to his own lawyer. The court said “The fact that this email was only discovered by inadvertence is, in a sense, poetic justice, considering that the respondent should have disclosed his attempts to comply with his disclosure requirements in any event.”
Due to the husband’s actions, the court ruled in favour of the wife, stating “In light of (the husband’s) failure to provide responding materials or to even request the funds for his accountant and lawyer until today’s date, I find these breaches to be the responsibility of the respondent and not his lawyer. I also find these breaches to be intentional and willful.” As a result, the husband was not able to participate in the trial in any way, including giving evidence or cross-examining witnesses.
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