Deadbeat Dad Jailed for 4.5 Years for Failing to Pay Nearly $250K in Child Support
In a controversial Nova Scotia decision released recently, a father who failed to abide by a court order requiring him to pay nearly $247,000 in unpaid child support was sentenced to 4.5 years’ incarceration for contempt of court.
The father, who is an IT professional, had been ordered by a court in 2013 to pay the mother almost $270,000 in unpaid child support which had accumulated over an 8-year span. The hefty arrears stemmed from the father’s chronic underpayment of support for their two kids. Except for what the court called “only token efforts to support his children” during their formative years, the father had foisted almost all his financial obligations on the mother, who had no professional qualifications and made a relatively modest living.
Yet a full two years after the court issued that 2013 order, the father had paid the mother only about $20,000 towards the amount owing; this left $247,000 including interest, still unpaid.
In 2015, at the mother’s request, the father was adjudged to be in contempt of court for ignoring the earlier order. In the meantime, the father had moved with his new wife to Denmark, from where he launched various appeals and procedural moves that went nowhere. (And in November 2020, he was returned to Nova Scotia after being arrested in Montreal under a Canada-wide warrant, following his 2019 deportation from Denmark).
This left the present-day court with the task of fashioning the appropriate penalty for the father’s civil contempt. The mother asked that he be given a 5-year jail term, plus various fines, interest and costs amounting to an additional $454,000 (not including the original $247,000 he still owed in support).
The court considered the proper penalty in the circumstances. First, it examined the “social order” objective behind a contempt proceeding, stating:
The focus of a contempt proceeding is far greater than the impact of [the father’s] failure to pay support for the children in [the father’s] custody because obeying the law and following court orders are the foundation of social order.
Next, the court emphasized that children have a right to receive support from their parents, even after the parents’ relationship ends. Those who ignore their child support obligations must be denounced. The court sketched out the foundational principles behind contempt penalties this way:
A penalty is to ensure respect for court orders, by [the father] and by everyone who comes to court. If there’s no respect for court orders, the judicial system and social order are undermined.
The focus of a penalty is coercing compliance with the order: making [the father] pay the child support he was ordered to pay.
As well as coercing [the father’s] compliance, the penalty should denounce his conduct and deter both [the father], specifically, and others, generally, from defying court orders. This is particularly so when the order is for child support.
The penalty must reflect the offence and be in proportion to the gravity of the offence and [the father’s] degree of responsibility, recognizing any aggravating and mitigating factors.
Finally, to settle on the proper punishment in the father’s case, the court looked at the overall circumstances, including his history of non-payment and his present lack of remorse.
While the father admitted to making mistakes, he never once apologized for denying the children their right to support, nor for burdening the mother with almost all the financial responsibility for their wellbeing over the years. To the contrary, he persisted in blaming others for his shortcomings.
In the court’s view, this recalcitrance warranted a stiff penalty, one that reflected the miniscule degree to which the father took responsibility.
The court also looked at the father’s past conduct: In the five years since being found in contempt – and despite being periodically employed – the father made only four support payments totaling $3,237, and had paid no ongoing child support whatsoever. There was also evidence that he had moved his financial affairs offshore. The court also disbelieved the father’s excuses, that he could not sell his $300,000 home to pay off the support debt, that he had no money to pay, and that he was not in a financial position to purge the contempt finding.
These conclusions left the court free to impose a penalty of imprisonment. After noting that the father had already been incarcerated for 31 days, the court ordered him to remain imprisoned for a further 4.5 years. This, the court said, was to “compel his respect for court orders, to recognize the gravity of his actions and responsibility, to denounce his conduct and to deter him, and others, from breaching court orders”.
However, if the father opted to purge the contempt by paying the full child support, then the penalty would cease to be in effect. (And the court declined to award the $454,000 in added fines and costs requested by the mother, finding they were disproportionate and would not add to the coercive force of the imprisonment).
The court ended by saying:
I don’t need to use adjectives like “shameful”, “egregious”, or “flagrant” to describe [the father’s] behaviour. The dullest description of his actions doesn’t disguise the depths of his disregard for the court and his children.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Power v. Power, 2020 NSSC 379