How to Avoid “Failure to Appear” and a Resulting Night in Jail

General Litigation

I read an article over the weekend about a groom in B.C. who spent his wedding night in jail. He was in arrears approximately $7,000 in child support, and was arrested an hour before the ceremony, and spent the night in jail.

While one can never be 100% sure with newspaper articles, this appears to be because, in addition to his failure to pay support, he also failed to appear in Family Law Court. I not infrequently meet people who either weren’t originally in trouble or were in less trouble, but who now have quite a lot of it due to ignored time lines in the pleadings or attempts at service. They disregard the envelope given to them by the process server, they fail to appear or file a response, and then hard and expensive work is necessary to try and restore them—and it’s not always possible.

Family proceedings and Family Law cases in BC are almost never pleasant, and court can be nerve-wracking. You can’t win if you don’t go—the most likely result of you not appearing is an order made in your absence that will be hard to overturn (the first step will be explaining why you weren’t there, and it needs to be more than it was really stressful or you were really busy). The Court assumes that your court case, which involves not only your time but the time of counsel, the judge, the clerk, and maybe a sheriff, should take priority over everything else, absent hospitalization or sudden death (or being arrested).

If you filed a response or counterclaim or notice of family claim, it might even be struck, and you might find yourself having to fight for your status as a party to your own proceeding. If you hope for an outcome that is even remotely satisfactory, it is important that you involve yourself in the process—if you find things confusing or overwhelming, and you can afford it, you may wish to have a half hour or an hour with a lawyer to go over some things. Even if you can’t afford it, you should try contacting duty counsel at a court house.

You can also get further information from Legal Aid BC . Contact one of our Family Law lawyers for further information.