What happens if I don’t follow a court order or agreement?


The consequences of not following a court order can be serious. And if you have a family law agreement and it's filed in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court, it can be enforced as if it were an order of the court. So you should also be careful to follow the terms of any agreement.

The consequences will depend on what the order or agreement is about, what court made the order or what court the agreement is filed in, and whether the order was made under the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act. It's up to the person who wants you to follow the order to take steps to enforce it.

Support orders and agreements

If you don’t pay court-ordered support, or support set out in a family law agreement filed with the court, the other person can enrol with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP). FMEP is a free government program that will enforce support orders. It has extensive powers to enforce support orders and can do things like:

  • garnish your wages (take money directly from your paycheque),
  • prevent you from renewing your driver’s licence,
  • put a charge on your property that can limit your ability to deal with it, and
  • arrange for your arrest (although that is rare).

If the other party enrols in FMEP, FMEP will take all the steps necessary to collect the support payments, including arrears. For more information, see Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.

Parenting orders and agreements

Enforcing parenting orders and agreements is not so straightforward since in some circumstances the reasons for not following them can be complicated. Maybe the order or agreement isn’t clear about what should happen in a particular situation, or you and the other party don’t agree about what the order or agreement means. Maybe circumstances have changed and you are finding it challenging to follow the order. Or maybe you don’t think it’s safe to follow the order.

Try to resolve any misunderstandings or disagreements about the order or agreement as soon as possible. You can use a mediator or a parenting coordinator to help you. Or, if you believe the order no longer fits the circumstances, you can apply to court to change the existing order. If it isn’t safe to follow the order, you may not be penalized for disobeying it, but you should try and get the order changed to avoid any complications.

If you don’t take these steps and continue to disobey a court order or filed agreement, you could be subject to serious consequences.

Parenting orders under the Divorce Act

If the order is made by the Supreme Court, the other party could ask for an order for contempt of court against you. The Supreme Court may make contempt orders in situations where a person consistently and deliberately breaches a court order. If you're found in contempt, the court can order fines, jail time, or both.

Section 292 of the Criminal Code makes it a criminal offence to interfere with a parent’s right to custody under a court order. In extreme cases, you could be charged with a criminal offence.

Parenting orders and agreements under the Family Law Act

Both the Provincial and Supreme Court can make orders or agreements under the Family Law Act about parenting time, parental responsibilities, and contact. There's a wide range of possible consequences for failing to follow an order or agreement made under the Family Law Act. In situations where:

  • you repeatedly fail to follow an order or agreement, or
  • your failure to follow an order or agreement caused the other parent and your child extreme inconvenience and cost,

the person wanting to enforce the order might decide to enforce it by making an application to court. There are many different decisions that a judge could then make.

Failure to exercise parenting time or contact

If you have parenting time or contact and you repeatedly fail to spend time with your child as agreed to or ordered, a judge can order one or more of the following:

  • You and the other person must go to mediation or another form of family dispute resolution.
  • You, the other person, and/or your child must attend counselling or other programs.
  • Someone must supervise the transfer of the child from one person to the other.
  • You must reimburse the other person if the failure to exercise parenting time or contact cost them money. (These expenses must be reasonable and necessary, for example, lost wages, child care, or travel expenses.)
  • If the judge thinks you won't follow any of the orders the court makes, you must put up security (such as money or property) or report to the court.

If the judge orders mediation, counselling, or other services that cost money, the judge can also decide how you and the other person will pay for the service (that is, whether or not and how you should split the cost).

Denial of parenting time or contact

If you wrongfully deny parenting time or contact to the other person, the judge can order one or more of the following:

  • You and the other person must go to mediation or another form of family dispute resolution.
  • You, the other person, and/or your child must attend counselling or other programs.
  • Time with the child will be scheduled to make up for the time that you denied the other person.
  • Someone must supervise the transfer of the child from one person to the other.
  • You have to reimburse the other person for expenses they had as a result of your denial of parenting time or contact. (These expenses must be reasonable and necessary, for example, lost wages, child care, or travel expenses.)
  • If the judge thinks you won't follow any of the orders the court makes, the court may order that you put up security or report to the court.
  • That you pay up to $5,000 for the benefit of the other person or the child.
  • That you pay a court fine of up to $5,000.

If the judge orders mediation, counselling, or other services that cost money, the judge can also decide how you and the other person will pay for the service (that is, whether or not and how you should split the cost).

See also the fact sheet Can you move — With or without your child?

When a denial isn't considered "wrongful"

There are a few situations where it's acceptable to deny the other person parenting time or contact. For example:

  • You believe the child might be at risk of family violence.
  • You believe the other person is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • The child is sick and you have a doctor's note saying that parenting time or contact isn't appropriate.
  • In the previous year, the other person repeatedly failed to spend their parenting time or contact time with the child, or didn't give you reasonable notice that they wouldn't be able to spend time with the child.
  • The other person told you they wouldn't be able to spend the time with the child but then changed their mind without giving you reasonable notice.

If you prevented the other person from having parenting time or contact, and the court agrees that you had a valid reason for doing so (the denial wasn't wrongful), the court can still order that the other person make up the time they would have spent with the child. If a judge makes such an order, they must base it on the best interests of the child, including their safety and security.

For more information

For more information about what might happen when one party doesn't follow an agreement or order, see What if the other party doesn't follow the parenting agreement or order? and What happens if an agreement isn't followed?

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