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Family courtDivorce and separation

Penalty for contempt of court: Wife fined $50,000

By June 25, 2018October 26th, 2021No Comments

What happens when someone breaches a financial court order? In the recent case of Rosington & Rosington, the Family Court demonstrated how it deals with serious contraventions of financial injunctions in a case where it was found that the wife had acted in “flagrant defiance of court orders”, amounting to contempt of court.

The case before Judge Loughnan in the Family Court at Sydney had earlier found the wife to be in contempt of court, after it was found she breached court orders on seven occasions and ignored the husband’s enquiries regarding the breaches, leading him to take legal action. The court was now required to deliver judgment on the wife’s sentencing on the contempt charges.

This wasn’t a case of an inadvertent, one-off contravention of an order. In this case, orders had previously been made restraining both parties from selling, mortgaging, assigning or alienating any real property, including drawing further funds against any existing security without the other party’s consent.  However, the wife admitted to having drawn funds repeatedly from a mortgage account, although she was aware of the orders made preventing her from doing so. The court established she knew her actions were in breach or in “flagrant disregard” of the court’s authority, amounting to contempt of court.

When someone is found guilty of contempt, the court has the power to punish the contempt by committal to prison or a fine or both.

In this case, neither party suggested to the court that imprisonment should be a suitable penalty. The husband sought that the wife receive a fine and enter into a bond for five years with a monetary term.  In the end, the court rejected a bond, instead sentencing the wife to a fine of $50,000, together with awarding her the husband’s costs of $40,000, both sums to be paid within 21 days.

In determining costs, the judge made criticism of the wife’s credibility and of her conduct during the case, which was “unfair to the husband and left him with no ability to test the wife’s evidence”.

The wife submitted that she was contrite, had not intended to reduce the marital asset pool, was of good character and had never contravened parenting orders in the ongoing parenting proceedings the couple were involved in. The judge accepted her remorse and noted that the contemptuous behaviour didn’t result in any damage to “the husband’s property settlement entitlements or to the court’s capacity to impose a just and equitable settlement”. As such, the judge found it was sufficient penalty to impose a fine of $50,000 as punishment and as a deterrent in respect of her future compliance with court orders, as the husband and wife were still involved in parenting proceedings, and the fine would deter the wife from not complying with parenting orders in future.

The penalty for contempt is intended to provide justice, and to act as a deterrent—both for the particular party involved and for the wider community.  It also demonstrates the effective administration of justice of showing that the court’s orders will be enforced.

The judge noted that the orders made in the property settlement meant the wife would receive assets worth more than 40% of $13 million–more than enough to cover the $50,000 fine and $40,000 costs awarded.

Read the case: the trial and the hearing on penalty.

Read our blog on contravention of parenting orders.

Do you need assistance with a family law matter?  Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.

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