What is “Contempt of Court” in Family Law? — Part II
As we have reviewed previously, I set out the general legal principles behind the concept of “contempt of court” in family proceedings, which had been considered in great detail in the recent Ontario decision in Jackson v. Jackson.
The mother in that case had asked the court to declare the father in contempt since she claimed he had breached the terms of prior temporary access orders and had thwarted her access in a long-standing campaign to gradually eliminate her from their two children’s lives.
After embarking on a detailed, sometimes historically-based consideration of the law and principles that underpin the contempt penalty in Canadian family proceedings, the court then turned to the more practical aspect: the specific, fact-driven legal tests that the mother had to meet in order to prevail in obtaining a contempt order against the father.
Specifically, the mother had to establish all of the following:
• That there was a valid, live court order that was to be enforced.
• That the father had actual knowledge of the order that the mother claims he breached.
• The order clearly and unequivocally states what should and should not be done.
• That, on the facts, the father disobeyed the order. (And there is no need to establish that he violated a specific term – it is enough for the mother to show that he disobeyed to the extent that it foiled the implementation of the court order).
• That the father disobeyed the order deliberately and willfully.
Moreover, the mother had to prove all these things, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Over the next 60 paragraphs of a very careful judgment, the court closely scrutinized the facts surrounding the various failed or unsatisfactory supervised visits, keeping in mind that the parents’ relationship had been turbulent and the separation was very acrimonious. (The mother had been criminally charged with assaulting one of the children, and which led to the supervised access order in the first place).
Overall, the court concluded that the father, while perhaps over-protective of the children and not sufficiently mindful of the mothers’ progress in addressing her parenting and emotional issues, was not in contempt within the meaning of the legal test. The necessary elements of the test were simply not made out.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Jackson v Jackson, 2016 ONSC 3466 (CanLII)