Costly Consequences for Contempt in Family Court
Costs awarded for Contempt of a Family Court Order in Courtney v. Sambray, 2015 ONSC 5488
Family law lawyers can encounter a fair share of uncooperative litigants. In Countney v. Sambray, the Court affirmed an array of remedies available to family law lawyers when a party disobeys a court order.
In Courtney v. Sambray, a father and mother were to share custody of their two children according to an interim court order. However, the father denied the mother access to her children contrary to the terms of the order. In response, a motion was brought to find the father in contempt. After reviewing the circumstances of the case, the Court found that the father’s behaviour amounted to a wilful refusal to abide by the terms of the court order and he was found in contempt.
Where a person is found in contempt, a court has extensive remedial powers. Pursuant to Family Law Rule 31(5), a court may order a person found in contempt to be imprisoned, pay a fine, penalty or costs, obey any order, prohibit certain behaviour, or do anything else the court decides is appropriate.
However, the mother did not seek any of these remedies because the father began complying with the order. To encourage an attitude of respect and cooperation between the mother and father, the court declined to exercise its powers under Family Law Rule 31(5).
However, the mother was awarded costs on a full recovery basis pursuant to Family Law Rule 24(8). Under this provision, a party may be ordered to pay costs where a court finds they acted in bad faith. The Court noted that as a general proposition, contempt of a court order will often amount to bad faith. In this circumstance, the father’s behaviour amounted to bad faith and he was ordered to pay $3,000.
Unfortunately, uncooperative litigants can add additional stress and tension to what is often an already challenging family transition. Courtney v. Sambray affirms the Court`s expansive powers under Family Law Rules 31(5) and 24(8) to impose an appropriate remedy when a party has breached a court order or acted in bad faith.