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: