“I was sent to jail over a divorce”

That’s what a family law litigant, imprisoned for contempt of court, told Law Times.  The facts of the case, however, reveal that he simply refused to follow the terms of a property settlement:

What happened in the seven days leading to the judge’s final determination on Oct. 17 appears to have made a difference in the finding against the husband.

After their breakup, the Pickens weren’t able to resolve all of their issues and sought family mediation that resulted in a settlement in 2009. The deal laid out the process for selling the property and the timing for it and determined that the parties would split the net proceeds of the sale.

In his endorsement dealing with the contempt charge last month, Nelson wrote that the ex-wife appeared in his court complaining that the husband had sold the property and dealt with the proceeds unilaterally in breach of a memorandum of understanding set out by the mediator.

It was on Jan. 24, 2011, that the court ordered him to retain the total net proceeds from the sale of the property.

The following April, Shecter moved for an order enabling her client to receive her cut of the proceeds. But the husband delayed the proceedings in order to give himself time to sort out capital gains issues and paid her $100,000 out of the net proceeds. He was to preserve another $310,000 pursuant to the Jan. 24 order.

This past April, a court set out the scenario for the capital gains tax calculation and ordered payment to the ex-wife by Sept. 1. The day before that deadline, the husband produced a statement indicating that all that remained in the account was $76,997. Shecter then brought a motion to find the husband in contempt of the order.

Shecter brought another motion on Oct. 10 complaining that the husband never did the capital gains calculation.

The husband entered into a consent order on Oct. 10 agreeing to pay his ex-wife $154,000 that day. But the husband told the court he didn’t reserve the funds. He never paid the amount.

The original motion for contempt came about on Oct. 15. It was accompanied by a second motion, this one in connection to the consent order. Two days later, Nelson ordered the husband to go to jail for 30 days.

“In dealing with remedy, it must be pointed out to the respondent that this motion is not between him and his wife,” wrote Nelson. “He, by breaching the order, is showing contempt and disdain for the court. That is very serious and will not be tolerated.”

In his decision, Nelson noted the husband “has done absolutely nothing to purge his contempt by making partial payment.”

“He was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs,” says Shecter.

It is not common for family law litigants to go to jail, but it’s certainly possible.  Here in Nova Scotia, even lesser punishments for contempt of court can be brutal:

(1)   A contempt order must record a finding of guilt on each allegation of contempt for which guilt is found and it may impose a conditional or absolute discharge, a penalty similar to a remedy for an abuse of process, or any other lawful penalty including any of the following:

(a)     an order that the person must abide by stated penal terms, such as for house arrest, community service, or reparations;

(b)     a suspended penalty, such as imprisonment, sequestration, or a fine suspended during performance of stated conditions;

(c)     a fine payable, immediately or on terms, to a person named in the order;

(d)     sequestration of some or all of the person’s assets;

(e)     imprisonment for less than five years, if the person is an individual.

Always – always – follow the terms of a court order.  If you absolutely cannot do so – if you lost your job and can no longer afford to pay support as ordered, for example – speak to a lawyer at once and commence a court application to vary the order.

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