As we’ve blogged about in the past, being found in contempt of court is a serious matter. In a recent family law case, an Ontario court was tasked with figuring out the appropriate penalty for the father’s contempt.
The Father’s Contempt of Court
The parties had a short relationship that lasted for less than two years. They had one child together.
Someone had made inappropriate online postings, and the mother sought disclosure (in the form of IP addresses) from the father to prove that he was the one who had made them. An order was made in November 2018, and varied in July 2019, which provided that the father would provide disclosure to the mother. The order stated:
“The Respondent shall disclose to the Applicant any and all IP addresses, cell phone numbers and email addresses the Respondent owns, uses, or to which he has access for his own use with respect to communication to or about the Applicant.”
In August 2020, the father was found in contempt of that order. The father was provided one last opportunity to purge his contempt, but he failed to do so.
As a result, in September 2020, the mother brought back a motion to provide submissions on the penalty that would be imposed on the father.
The Law on Sentencing
Rule 31(5) of the Family Law Rules provides that if a court finds a party in contempt, it can order the party to:
- go to jail;
- pay a fine;
- pay an amount to another party;
- do anything else the court decides is appropriate;
- not do what the court forbids;
- pay costs; and
- obey any other order.
Sentencing is meant to both be restorative to the victim of the contempt, and at the same time, punish the party guilty of contempt. Furthermore, any penalty has to be proportionate to the situation. Factors that courts can consider when determining an appropriate sentence include:
- 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.
Father Ordered to Pay $2,500 Fine, Among Other Things
In ordering the father to pay a fine in the amount of $2,500, the court found that his breach (i.e., a refusal to provide IP addresses) was at the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness. Furthermore, while the father did not purge his contempt, or even show up to the penalty hearing, this was the first finding of contempt against him.
The court concluded that a $2,500 fine would act as a deterrent to the father. While the mother sought a higher penalty, the court noted that the cases she referred to differed not only with respect to the nature of the disclosure requested, but on the breach itself.
Furthermore, the court made a non-denigration order, finding that an order preventing the father from making disparaging remarks was appropriate. While the father had denied doing anything wrong, he did not file any materials in response to the mother’s allegations, remained in breach of the 2018 order and had not fully participated in the hearings.
Finally, the court also agreed that the mother could dispense with the father’s consent to obtain third-party disclosure, as this would provide the mother with the authority to deal directly with the third parties that had posted the derogatory remarks and obtain the disclosure sought in the 2018 order.
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If you have questions about your rights, it is best to speak with a lawyer. At Gelman & Associates, our family lawyers understand that this is an uncertain and stressful time. We remain open to help our clients but are taking precautions to keep safety paramount. Our goal is to always empower clients to make informed decisions about their future. To help you maintain positive mental health during a difficult period, we also offer our clients a free consultation with a psychological professional.
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