Harsh but fair punishment in Hobbs v. Hobbs 2008 Ont. C.A.

Hobbs v. Hobbs highlights the importance of complying with court orders that request financial disclosure. In this case, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of Justice Sproat of the Superior Court of Justice where he found the husband in contempt of court proceedings as a result of his failure to produce documentary disclosure. Justice Sproat had ordered that the husband pay costs of over $26,000.00. The Court of Appeal upheld this cost order and ordered that he pay another $12,500.00.

Carol Hobbs and Duncan Hobbs were married on January 12, 1980. They separated in the spring of 2005. There were two adult children of the marriage who at the time of the proceedings were engaged in educational pursuits. Mr. Hobbs was a sole shareholder of a family holding company. In 2006 his annual income was admitted to be $466,598.00. Issues concerning the valuation of Mr. Hobbs’ corporate interests and his annual income surfaced early in the litigation. Ms. Hobbs brought a motion on February 13, 2007 seeking the production of various documents and information. An Order was granted mandating that Mr. Hobbs cooperate in all respects with the disclosure requests and provide the disclosure within 30 days of the Order.

In April, 2007, the parties were back before a motions judge because of Mr. Hobbs’ lack of financial disclosure. Mr. Hobbs provided a number of excuses for the lack of disclosure including that he was busy travelling. The court did not accept these excuses and concluded that court orders must be followed. Mr. Hobbs was again ordered to provide financial disclosure.

Mr. Hobbs again failed to provide the requisite disclosure. In September 2007, Ms. Hobbs launched a motion against Mr. Hobbs for contempt of the court orders. Mr. Hobbs made more excuses for the delay, claiming that the delay was not intentional and out of his control. The motion judge rejected Mr. Hobbs’ explanation and found him in contempt of court.

Mr. Hobbs appealed the decision concerning his contempt. The Court of Appeal applied the criteria with respect to contempt of court laid out in G.(N).) c. Services aux enfants & adultes de Prescott-Russell (2006) Ont. C.A.

‘A three-pronged test is required. First, the order that was breached must state clearly and unequivocally what should and should not be done. Secondly, the party who disobeys the order must do so deliberately and wilfully. Thirdly, the evidence must show contempt beyond a reasonable doubt. Any doubt must clearly be resolved in favour of the person or entity alleged to have breached the order.’

Having applied the three-pronged test, the court concluded that Mr. Hobbs was in contempt of court and dismissed his appeal. Mr. Hobbs’ failure to make disclosure was disastrous for him. Not only was a large cost order awarded against him in the lower court but also in the Court of Appeal. The courts thereby highlighted the necessity of complying with court orders.

Andrew Feldstein

The Feldstein Family Law Group (FFLG) is one the largest family law firms that practices Family Law exclusively in Greater Toronto, with ten lawyers and counting. The boutique law firm has won the Top Choice Award for Family Law™ in Toronto for the past eleven years (2007 to 2017 inclusive).

Managing Partner Andrew Feldstein has been practicing family law for more than 20 years and frequently comments on Family Law issues through the media. The Feldstein Family Law Group offers vast written, video, and media resources on its website to those who find that they need to end their relationship.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. In family law cases where property or support is an issue, parties should expect to fully disclose their complete finances to the other party. In many cases, the financial disclosure a party is expected to provide will seem voluminous. In this case it appears as though there were literally numerous thousands of pages involved, but the quantum of disclosure is no justification for non-disclosure. If there is information that is pertinent to valuating a party’s assets or their income, that party should expect to produce it to the opposing party. There should be no expectation that a party’s financial information will be excluded from the Family Court because said information is property of a corporation for example. Family Court judges routinely pierce the ‘corporate veil’.

    If the requested disclosure is relevant, resisting its production will usually serve to drive up the legal fees – for which the resister may ultimately be responsible for the fees of the other party as well as their own – and result in court ordered disclosure and perhaps further court ordered penalties like contempt, costs or even striking the resister’s pleadings. The prudent course of action for parties is to accept that full and complete disclosure is a necessity in family law matters; accept that it may be a burdensome, voluminous and time consuming exercise; and simply get on with it.

  2. Contempt motions should not lightly be brought nor are orders for contempt lightly granted by the Court. In family law cases, where full, complete and accurate financil disclosure is critical to resolve issues of, inter alia, support and division of property, the contempt sanction, along with the striking of pleadings, is useful and necessary. The scheme in the Family Law Rules is clear and consistent. So too are the sanctions. As a measure of the importance given to disclosure by the rules, the sanctions are significant. Hobbs is a good example of why the disclosure rules and the sanctions for non-compliance are the centrepiece of the Family Law Rules.

    The three pronged Test in G.(N).) c. Services aux enfants & adultes de Prescott-Russell (2006) Ont. C.A. highlights the importance of certainty in an Order, a willful intent and the more onerous burden of proof beyond a resonable doubt. It is essential, therefore , when obtaining Orders for disclosure that a date for production be clearly stated in such order. There must be certainty as to the date the offending party breached the said order. Follow ups with written requests for the production of such ordered disclosure after the said date should be sent. If the offending party still fails to cure the breach (other than circumstances beyond his/her control), it will be easier to establish intent and meet the burden of proof.

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