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A man has been jailed for a year for his “flagrant disregard” of the terms of a property settlement with his ex-wife, in a decision aimed at sending a message to the community about the importance of complying with family law orders.
The 52-year-old, given the court pseudonym “Mr Gallejo”, agreed in 2013 that his ex-wife could keep their matrimonial home, worth $955,000, and that he would pay the $730,000 mortgage on the property within four years. The pair had also owned other properties, held via a family trust and self-managed super fund.
However, Mr Gallejo failed to comply with the property consent orders; he withdrew all of the $230,000 he had paid towards the mortgage and failed to make monthly repayments of $10,625 for two years, as he had agreed.
Federal Circuit Court judge Michael Jarrett said there were “particular difficulties” with the perception of the authority of the courts that made family law orders.
“There is, in my view, a significant public purpose to be served by the imposition of an appropriate penalty to mark the court’s disapproval of the offending conduct and to underscore the importance of compliance with orders of the court exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act, whether they be consent orders or otherwise,” Judge Jarrett said.
“That is to say, there is a significant aspect of general deterrence involved in the sanction to be imposed in this case. Specific deterrence is not particularly significant in this case because of the … lack of any prospect that Mr Gallejo will fulfil the relevant obligations.”
Judge Jarrett said the purpose of the contempt proceedings brought by Mr Gallejo’s ex-wife, “Ms Parrish”, was not to coerce Mr Gallejo into meeting his obligations, as it was “entirely apparent” he did not have the capacity to do so; it was because the public interest in the administration of justice required compliance with all court orders.
He also fined Mr Gallejo — who had bought another house with his new wife — $1000 for failing to comply with a court order to provide financial statements for the self-managed super fund. The judge rejected Mr Gallejo’s claim he had failed to make the payments because of cashflow difficulties. He said Mr Gallejo had failed to express contrition.
However, Judge Jarrett took into account that Mr Gallejo had paid Ms Parrish $1000 a week in spousal maintenance for more than two years, while not obliged to do so, and paid the insurance and rates on their former home.
University of Queensland dean of law Patrick Parkinson said he could not comment on the specific case but the family law system had a reputation for not enforcing its orders, particularly in relation to parenting issues.
There were often “complex reasons” the courts did not penalise parents for failing to comply with orders, including a concern any penalties could have a negative impact on their children. However, it had bred in the family law profession and the community a sense that judges’ orders were a “bit optional”.
The ruling, released this month, was made on August 3, the same day Judge Jarrett jailed a Brisbane mother for 18 months after she went on the run with her children for three years. He also jailed the children’s grandmother, who had cancer, for three months, because she kept their location secret.
There has been no appeal lodged by Mr Gallejo and the time for appealing has expired.