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Defaulting Family Lawyer Sent to Jail for Failure to Pay Support Arrears


Defaulting Family Lawyer Sent to Jail for Failure to Pay Support Arrears

Even having practiced as long as I have, it’s rare to see a support-paying parent sent to jail for non-payment, even though this is one of the enforcement mechanisms available to Ontario courts under the governing family legislation.

But this is exactly what happened in a recent case called Ontario (Family Responsibility Office) v. Adema. And the defaulting parent was a lawyer, to boot.

The 50-year old man was the father of three children by two different mothers. In connection with one of those children, he was $15,000 in arrears, and in connection with the other two, he was $19,500 in arrears. He had also been ordered by the court to provide financial disclosure, and had been warned by the support-enforcement arm of the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) that Default Hearings would proceed if he did not comply with various directives. Despite being granted several extensions by the court, the father never made what was considered adequate financial disclosure and delivered it late in any event. To add insult to injury, he happened to work as a lawyer and practiced family law periodically over the courts of his rather peripatetic career.

The Default Hearing went forward as had been threatened, with the Director of the FRO requesting the court to imprison the man for 90 days in connection with each of the defaults, or until he paid the outstanding arrears. The court agreed that some jail time was necessary, and admonished the father in the following terms:

The payor has had 9 months to show good faith by paying some support.

The payor has preferred his interests ahead of those of his children. His financial statement reveals that he spends $300 per month on alcohol and tobacco, $100 per month on entertainment and $300 per month towards his debts. Yet he is choosing not to voluntarily pay any child support.

The payor did not provide a valid justification for his poor payment history. He presented no plan to pay the arrears. He gave no indication that he would voluntarily make any payments in these cases. He presented as aggrieved that his support obligations are being enforced. He feels that his children have been provided for adequately by their mothers. Why is he being bothered now?

Rationalizing that as a lawyer the father should have “known better” — the court added:

It has become clear that less aggressive enforcement options other than imprisonment have failed. The suspension of the payor’s driver’s licence and passport did not result in support compliance. These default proceedings have had little impact on his payments. The payor was given multiple opportunities to comply with the support and disclosure orders.

The payor knows or should know the potential consequences of his behaviour. It is disappointing that a family law lawyer has acted in such a manner.

The court has limited sympathy for the payor’s predicament. It is reserved for his children who have gone without adequate support and the mothers of those children who have assumed the payor’s support obligations.

The message needs to be sent to the payor that child support orders for his children matter and will be enforced. The default orders shall provide for an immediate committal of the payor for 75 days in both cases or until a portion of the arrears ($3,500 in each case) is paid.

Should court-imposed imprisonment be used more often to enforce the payment of child support? What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Ontario (Family Responsibility Office) v. Adema, 2016 ONCJ 37 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at

  1. sonny #

    wow..and child molesters and rapists walks free as well as the women beaters..?????

    March 10, 2016
  2. Malinda debassige #

    My children’s father hasn’t paid anything in almost 8 years and when I call FRO they say there’s nothing they can do. It’s so frustrating that nothing is being done and when I take him back to court he just doesn’t show. Please will someone help me?!

    March 10, 2016
  3. Tom #

    I was just reading this … put someone in jail do to falling behind in payments is sick……the. Court system is fucked up…..
    The government is gone too far this world is backwards….give the man a break by…..

    March 10, 2016
  4. Norma Hayes #

    Yes they should . If the payer can smoke, drink alcohol, enjoy there entertainment then they should be put in prison to teach them they have to take care of there responsibilities before they self indulge .

    March 11, 2016
  5. Victoria #

    What can I do when my children’s father owes over 7 grand on child support and is avoiding those arrears. Who can I get help from? I live in Quebec.

    March 11, 2016
  6. Crystal #

    Yes, I believe this should happen more often. My ex hasn’t seen his son since he was 4 and he is now 14 and hasn’t been paying child support and keeps moving and trying to beat the system. In reality he is just hurting his son and in some of these cases I do believe jail time is required.

    March 14, 2016
  7. Melissa #

    Yes absolutely jail time should be used. I have my daughter’s father who owes over $5.000 right now. His drivers license and everything has been suspended and he still hasnt paid. So yes. Jail time should be used more often.

    March 14, 2016
  8. Darrell #

    What about mothers? My ex is in the arrears now a full year for my son, she has had full employment for over a year and has not increased her support. My support should have stopped for my 18 year old daughter since she don’t live at home with the mother but her bf, she is finished school as of Jan 26 and not in post secondary schooling. She also works and I still have to pay. Where is the justice for fathers like me? Why don’t FRO look at these things as well instead of having to try to fight it in court again? If you are in arrears then you have to pay like I do but my circumstances have changed now. What can I do to make it right? My son deserves support from my ex!

    March 14, 2016
  9. Jackie #

    I am going through the same thing my x does not want to pay his arrears of both child and spousal support, we have been to court a number of times and the thing I don’t get is why do i have to show how i supported my kids and myself. And all the other documents they want from me like Income Tax, Where and when i had been employed. And the list just goes on and on also i have to provide a discloser to I just don’t get it he is the one in arrears NOT ME. Why do i need to show how i supported my family and provided for them. When he was ordered to pay, it just don’t seem right to me he should be the one to have to show all documention of why he could not pay and still does not want to. Like i was told he was ordered by one judge to pay and he more or less said F—U and now he wants another one to over rule the first decision.

    March 15, 2016
  10. Crys #

    Yes I fully think any parent that doesn’t pay support should have a chance to make arrangements to pay if not they should go to jail. My grandsons father doesn’t pay any support he cries broke but he always has money to alcohol, drugs, smokes, a boat, ski food and whatever else he wants, never puts his children first. He lies about his income and is on welfare working full time and getting paid under the table. Things like this needs to stop!!

    March 15, 2016
  11. Harry #

    If we had presumed 50/50 custody then this would never had been an issue. I find it appalling that debtors prison exists in this country. The entire family Court system needs to be torn down, and rebuilt providing equal rights for all the parties involved. Not the gender discriminating farce that it has become.

    March 15, 2016
  12. Mike #

    He can.t pay nothing while he is in jail the children will get nothing

    March 15, 2016
  13. Krystal #

    Im going trouh the exact same thing but no arrest! He fail to comply to the court order! So fed up!

    March 15, 2016

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