The Ontario Superior Court made a rare criminal contempt ruling recently against a husband litigant in a family law case by sending him to jail for 30 days.*
This unusual finding of criminal contempt stemmed from the husband’s failure to preserve $310,000 from the sale of a piece of a commercial property, contrary to a court order made in January 2012. The husband had asked for an extension to sort out his capital-gain tax liabilities before the funds were paid out.
In April, the court set out the capital-gain tax calculation and ordered him to pay his wife by September 1.
A day before that deadline, the husband produced a statement indicating that only a small fraction of the funds (less than a quarter of the original amount) remained in the account. The lawyer for the wife brought a motion of contempt against the husband.
By October, the husband agreed to a court order to pay the wife $154,000 on the same date. He never paid the amount. A second contempt motion was brought against him.
In making the decision to jail the husband (for the first contempt motion), the judge wrote that the husband, by breaching the order, showed contempt and distain for the court. “That is very serious and will not be tolerated,” stated the judge.
Criminal contempt, imprisonment in particular, is rare in family law cases. Judges typically regard such harsh punishment as a measure of last resort. Even in a civil case (in this instance, it was a family law matter), the judge must first find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before someone can be found in contempt of the court criminally.
Even if someone has been found in contempt of court, the offender must be given an opportunity to purge his/her contempt before penalties may be instituted.
In this case, the judge noted that the husband “has done absolutely nothing to purge his contempt by making partial payments.” The husband was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
The husband, meanwhile, is not absolved of his disobedience of the court orders. The second contempt motion is pending.
*Citation currently unavailable as of the date of this article.
This blog is provided for educational purposes and for your reference. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be regarded as such. The law may have changed since the publication of this article.