Parties to a court order may not always follow (comply with) the terms of the order. There are a number of ways to enforce a court order, depending on what needs to be enforced. Some of the possibilities are listed in this section, though which applications you can make for enforcement will depend on which jurisdiction you are in, and what kind of order you are applying to enforce.
Maintenance Enforcement Program
If you have a child or spousal maintenance/support order, you can have the support amounts enforced through the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). MEP is a provincial government program through which all court orders for maintenance or support must be filed. When a support/maintenance order is issued anywhere in Nova Scotia, a copy of the order is automatically sent to MEP. There are similar programs in every province and territory, although they may be called different things in different provinces. For example, in Ontario, it is the ‘Family Responsibility Office.’ The case worker assigned to your file is your ‘enforcement officer.’
Sometimes, if your order is not specific enough, it may be difficult for MEP to enforce. For example, if you have special expenses for child support and your order just says the parties will split these costs 50/50, without giving a dollar amount, MEP may not be able to enforce this. The more specific the amounts are in your order, the better.
If your order deals with child or spousal maintenance or support, there has to be a clause (section) in your order regarding the Maintenance Enforcement Program. This section must be in an order dealing with support or maintenance, even if you and the other party agree to not put your payments through MEP.
If you and the other party agree that you will not go through MEP, you must state this in writing. You can check with your enforcement officer about what form to use.
Even if you opt out of the program, it only takes one of you to opt back in, if you need to. This is why the clause about MEP must be in your order.
For more information about MEP, click here.
Contempt may occur when a person disobeys or disregards a court order or a part of a court order that they knew existed. This is also sometimes called violating or breaching a court order. Some courts may have a contempt process that you can use to enforce certain types of court orders.
Contempt proceedings are complicated and the applicant must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the party being charged with contempt was aware of the order, and failed to obey it. It is recommended that you speak with a lawyer before applying for a contempt order.
Generally, contempt cannot be used to enforce child or spousal support/maintenance amounts. This is the role of the Maintenance Enforcement Program. If Maintenance Enforcement is not enforcing your order, you may be able to use the contempt process if you get written permission to do so from the Director of Maintenance Enforcement. This does not occur very often.
Contempt proceedings can sometimes be used for situations where someone is being denied access to their child, but the access arrangements in your order must be specific enough to show that someone actually violated them. For example, if your order only states that you have ‘reasonable access’ without giving any specific dates or times, you probably cannot use the contempt process. Because the wording regarding access is so general, you cannot show specifically when you were denied access (on what dates and times).
Execution Orders and Certificates of Judgment
In some situations, you may be able to apply to get an Execution Order and/or a Certificate of Judgment. This may happen in situations where you are attempting to enforce a payment of money for a property settlement or costs award that does not relate to child or spousal maintenance/support. Execution Orders and Certificates of Judgment are only used in the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court (Family Divisions).
An Execution Order is a court order used to give a Sheriff the right to enforce the payment of money set out in an earlier court order. It cannot be used to enforce the payment of child or spousal support/maintenance if the order is filed for enforcement with the Maintenance Enforcement Program. One rare exception to this would be if MEP provides a letter confirming that they cannot enforce the terms of the order.
The standard form of Execution Order is found in the Civil Procedure Rules in Form 79.17A along with the Statement of Amount for Execution in Form 79.17B. These forms can be found online here. Together these are considered to be one document. This form is used for lump sum payments owed. This means that the payment is being collected all at one time.
Another form of Execution Order that is used for ensuring payments of ‘periodic’ debts or amounts is set out in Civil Procedure Rule Form 79.19. This form can be found online here. This means that there will be a series of payments made at certain times. This does not require the Statement of Amount of Execution Form. Court staff do not prepare these documents for you. You can do them on your own, or preferably, with a lawyer. You may also have to file an affidavit or other documents. Check with a lawyer or court staff for filing requirements.
A Certificate of Judgment is available in Form 46 under the Land Registration Act. This form was created by the Land Registration Office (Registry of Deeds) so that judgments can be recorded against property owned now or in the future by the judgment debtor (the person who owes the debt). This document will appear in the Registry judgment roll for five years from the date of judgment unless renewed before the expiry of the five year period. All Land Registration Act forms are available online. Parties are responsible to prepare their own documents and file them with the court. You can do them on your own, or preferably, with a lawyer.
There may be other enforcement applications available to you, depending on which court is dealing with your file, and what your issues are. Speak with a lawyer or court staff about what might be available to you. Note that court staff cannot tell you which option is best for you – only a lawyer can give you this advice.