Sanctions for Ignoring Court Orders: The Ontario Courts Lays Down the Law
In Milne v. Milne the spouses were embroiled in a dispute over spousal support and related issues. In the course of their litigation, the wife had persistently failed to provide financial disclosure, despite being specifically ordered by the court on several occasions to do so. The husband eventually applied to have the wife’s claim dismissed entirely.
In the context of ruling on his application, the court examined the general rules and principles that should guide the decision on what sanction is appropriate for the wife – and others like her – in the face of persistent disobedience in complying with court orders.
The court began by noting the Ontario Family Law Rules affords the courts with a broad list of potential sanctions anytime a party fails to obey an order in a case, or in a related case. Among them, noted the court, was what it called the “nuclear option” of last resort – dismissing the offending party’s claim altogether. This brings the entire claim to an end, not just the litigation.
Next, it cited from prior Ontario Family Law cases in which other courts offered no-nonsense admonitions to litigants who persist in ignoring orders. For example, in a case called Roberts v. Roberts the Ontario Court of Appeal stated that the most basic obligation in family law is the duty to disclose financial information; the failure to abide by this fundamental, immediate and ongoing obligation
“…. impedes the progress of the action, causes delay and generally acts to the disadvantage to the opposite party. It also impacts on the administration of justice. Unnecessary judicial time is spent and the final adjudication is stalled. Financial disclosure is automatic. It should not require court orders — let alone three — to obtain production.”
The court in Milne v. Milne then did a round-up of some of the other pithy comments made by these prior courts:
- From a case called Gordon v. Starr: “An order is an order. Not a suggestion. … One of the reasons that many family proceedings degenerate into an expensive merry-go-round ride is the all-too-common casual approach to compliance with court orders.”
- From Manchanda v. Thethi, where the court noted that
“A party should not have to endure order after order after order being ignored and breached by the other side. A refusal to disclose one’s financial affairs is not just a mis-step in the pre-trial tactical game that deserves a two minute delay of game penalty. Failure to disclose is a breach of the primary objective. Especially if it involves breach of a court order, a party who fails to disclose evinces a determination that he or she does not want to play by the rules. It is time to oblige such parties by assessing a game misconduct to eject them from the proceeding.”
- And finally, as observed in Granofsky v. Lambersky:
“A just determination of any family proceeding is rooted in the protection of the administration of justice as a whole, and when a party chooses to consistently disobey a court order, the administration of justice itself is called into question.”
After noting these governing principles, and after chronicling the wife’s many failures to comply with court mandates, the court found it was appropriate to dismiss her application outright. She had not sufficiently complied with the court’s prior order, she paid no costs, and she was in breach of a specific order to disclose key financial evidence.
The court ended by chastising the wife, noting she had “exhausted a remarkable amount of court resources in a transparent attempt” to advance a specific narrow objective “by avoiding further scrutiny of her claim.”
For the full text of the decisions, see:
Milne v. Milne, 2019 ONSC 6601
Gordon v. Starr, 2007 CanLII 35527
Roberts v. Roberts, 2015 ONCA 450 (Ont. C.A.)
Granofsky v. Lambersky, 2019 ONSC 3251 (Ont. S.C.J.)