What happens if you don't follow a parenting or support agreement or order?

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

A family law agreement is a binding agreement. That means you have to do what it says. You can choose to file it in either Provincial Court or Supreme Court. Then it can be enforced just like a court order

If you breach (don't follow) a court order or agreement:

  • the other person can go to court to enforce it, and
  • you can get into serious trouble.

The type of things that can happen if you don't follow an order will depend on:

  • what type of order or agreement you aren't following, 
  • what part of it you aren't following,
  • 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.

If you do breach an order or agreement, try to sort things out with the other person (the law calls them the other party) yourself first.

You might not have followed your agreement or order because of something the other person did or didn't do. If that's the case, find out what's going on and why they aren't doing what they're supposed to do. You might be able to work it out without going to court. 

Going to court can take a lot of time and money. And it's stressful. But you'll probably have to go to court to sort things out if:

  • you don't follow parts of an order or agreement over and over again,
  • the other person keeps having to change their plans at the last minute or pay for things they didn't expect to because you're not following parts of an order or agreement,
  • you're behind on paying support, or
  • you can’t agree on how to change the agreement or order.

Here are:

  • some things that count as not following a parenting or support agreement or order, and
  • what's likely to happen if you do any of them.

You're not paying support as ordered

The other person can enrol with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) if you don't pay:

  • court-ordered support, or
  • support set out in a family law agreement filed with the court.

FMEP is a provincial government program that tracks and collects maintenance orders and agreements for child or spousal support.

It can do things like:

  • garnish your wages (take money directly from your paycheque or tax return),
  • take away your driver's licence,
  • stop you from selling your property without asking FMEP first.

If the other person enrols in FMEP, FMEP will help them get their support payments from you, including any arrears.

See Family Maintenance Enforcement Program for more information.

But:

  • even if you're not making your child support payments, the other person can't stop you from having parenting time or contact with the child, and
  • you can't stop paying child support just because there are issues about parenting time or contact.

You're not following parenting orders or agreements

This is complicated, because there are all sorts of reasons why you might not follow parenting orders and agreements. For example:

  • the order or agreement isn't clear about what should happen in a certain situation (for example, you're sick when it's your turn to look after the children),
  • you and the other person don't agree about what the order or agreement means,
  • things have changed in your life and you're finding it hard to do what the order says (for example, you have a new job and have to travel a lot now), or
  • you don't think it’s safe to do what the order says.

Try to sort out any disagreements or issues about the order or agreement with the other person as soon as you can.

If you don't follow parts of a parenting order or agreement over and over again, and the matter ends up in court, a judge will take it very seriously. Instead of not following the order or agreement, try to sort things out with the other person.

Courts want parents to be reasonable and act in the best interests of their children. Here are some things you can do to try to sort out any issues with the order or agreement:

  • If you and the other person find it hard to talk to each other, you could use a mediator, a family justice counsellor, or a parenting coordinator.
  • If you think the order doesn't work for you any more, you can apply to court to change it.
  • If you think it isn't safe to follow the order, you can apply to court to change it. You might not be in trouble if you don't follow an order that isn't safe, but it's risky to just not do what it says.

Parenting orders made by the BC Supreme Court

The Supreme Court might make a contempt order if you don't follow a court order over and over again. The other person could ask to get a contempt of court order against you if:

  • the Supreme Court made the parenting order, and
  • you're not doing everything it says.

If you're found in contempt, the punishment could be:

  • a fine
  • jail time
  • both a fine and jail time

Parenting orders and agreements made under the Family Law Act

Both the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court can make orders or agreements under the Family Law Act about:

  • parenting time
  • parental responsibilities
  • contact

If you're not following an order or agreement, the judge has a lot of options about what to do, depending on what part of the order or agreement you're not following.

If you don't see your child when you're supposed to

If a parenting order or agreement says you have parenting time or contact with your child, but you don't turn up for that time again and again, a judge can order that:

  • you and the other person have to go to mediation or another type of family dispute resolution;
  • you, the other person, and your children have to go to counselling or other programs;
  • someone (they'll have to be older than 19) has to watch you and the other person when you pick up your children from each other; or
  • you have to pay the other person if your failure to exercise parenting time or contact (when you didn't see your child) cost them money (but only for things like lost wages, child care, or travel expenses).

You might have to do more than one of these things.

If the judge thinks you won't follow any of the orders the court makes, you might have to put up security (such as money or property) or report to the court.

The judge can also decide how you and the other person will pay (that is, how much each of you should pay, or whether only one of you should pay) if they order you to use:

  • mediation,
  • counselling, or
  • other services that cost money.

Denial of parenting time or contact

Usually, denying someone parenting time or contact (not letting someone have parenting time or contact) is considered wrongful by the law.

But sometimes it's okay for you to stop the other parent from having parenting time or contact with the children. For example, a court would probably say it wasn't wrongful if:

  • you believe the child might face family violence;
  • you believe the other person is taking drugs or alcohol and it's affecting how they behave;
  • the child is sick and you have a doctor's note saying that parenting time or contact isn't a good idea right now; or
  • in the year before, the other person often:
    • didn't use their parenting time or contact time with the child; or
    • didn't give you decent notice that they wouldn't be able to spend time with the child; or
    • told you they wouldn't be able to spend the time with the child but then changed their mind without giving you decent notice.

But that doesn't mean you can keep denying them parenting or contact time. You might want to change the order or agreement to reduce the number of visits or have them supervised. A family justice counsellor or mediator might be able to help you work something out.

What the court can order

A court might agree that you had a good reason for stopping the other person from having their parenting time or contact. Even if the denial wasn’t wrongful, the court can still order that the other person gets to make up any parenting time or contact they lost. If a judge makes an order like this, they have to base it on the best interests of the child. This includes looking at a child's safety and security.

Under the BC Family Law Act, if it turns out you wrongfully denied parenting time or contact to the other parent, the judge can order that:

  • you and the other parent have to go to mediation or another type of family dispute resolution;
  • you, the other person, and your children have to go to counselling or other programs;
  • the other person gets extra time with the children to make up for the time they lost;
  • you have to pay back the other person if the denial of parenting time or contact cost them money (but only for things like lost wages or travel expenses);
  • someone (they'll have to be older than 19) has to watch you and the other person when you pick up your children from each other;
  • you have to pay up to $5,000 to the other person or the children; or
  • you have to pay a court fine of up to $5,000.

You might have to do more than one of these things.

If the judge thinks you or the other person won't follow any of the orders the court makes, one of you might have to put up security (such as money or property) or report to the court.

The judge can also decide how you and the other person will pay (that is, how much each of you should pay, or whether only one of you should pay) if they order you to use:

  • mediation,
  • counselling, or
  • other services that cost money.

What if you're worried the other person is going to move with the child?

Check to see what your parenting order or agreement says about moving or relocation. Even if it doesn't say anything, someone who's planning to move has to give any other parent, guardian, or person with contact with a child 60 days' written notice of the move.

The parent who's not moving can then apply to the court to object (say they don't agree) to the move. People with contact can't apply to the court to object.

See Enforce a parenting agreement or order in Provincial Court or Enforce a parenting agreement or order in Supreme Court for how to enforce (or respond to an application to enforce) an agreement or order about parenting time or contact.