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Appellant Seeks Modification of Child Support Obligations


The instant case arises from an award of child support entered after an inquest, upon the appellant’s default in appearing at the hearing. A New York Family Lawyer said the appellant alleges he became sick immediately prior to the commencement of a support hearing in February 1990 and asked his wife’s attorney to inform the court that he went home ill. Instead, his wife’s attorney only informed the court that he was present, but had left. Thus, the wife was the sole witness at the inquest, and, based upon her testimony, the Hearing Examiner, in an order, awarded child support and maintenance. The appellant sporadically paid only a small fraction of the support ordered by the court.

A New York Custody Lawyer said that the appellant further alleges that from the time of the support proceedings until April 1991 he either lacked counsel or that the counsel which represented him did not provide him with effective assistance of counsel. The appellant then engaged his present counsel who moved by order to show cause to vacate his default pursuant to CPLR 5015. The motion was denied by Hearing Examiner in an order and objections to the Hearing Examiner’s order were denied in the order appealed from.

The appellant sought modification of his support obligations pursuant to Family Court Act § 415. Hearing Examiner Silverman ordered a combined hearing on the issues of downward modification and whether the appellant had willfully violated the support order.

On two occasions, the Suffolk County Department of Social Services sought to have the appellant found in willful contempt for failure to make payments. A Westchester County Family Lawyer said the court found on both occasions that the appellant’s virtual complete disregard of the court order and the absence of support payments established that he willfully violated the court’s order. Thereafter, the court sentenced the appellant to 90-day terms of incarceration for contempt. On each occasion, the Judge offered the appellant the option of paying a lump sum to be applied to his support obligation in lieu of his incarceration.

The appellant served the entire term of the first commitment. During his second term of 90 days, the appellant applied for relief, and this court, by decision and order on motion, stayed the enforcement of his sentence on the condition that he make regular support payments of $100 a week.

A Suffolk County Family Lawyer said the court find that the court here did not improvidently exercise its discretion by denying the father’s motion to vacate his default pursuant to CPLR 5015. It is well settled that whether to relieve a party of an order entered on default is a matter left to the sound discretion of the court. The party seeking to vacate a default must establish both that there is a reasonable excuse for the default and that there exists a meritorious defense. Denial of a motion is proper where a party fails to show a reasonable excuse, even though the party may have a meritorious defense. Even assuming the defendant has presented a reasonable excuse for his default, we find that the defendant failed to present a sufficiently credible defense to justify vacating or modifying his obligation.

Additionally, the appellant claims that the court erred by finding a willful violation of the support order and committing him to a term of incarceration. Whether a default is willful is shown by proof that the defaulting party has the ability to pay but did not do so. The mere fact that payment was not made, by itself, does not establish willfulness. The standard which must be met in order to establish a willful failure to comply with an order of support is “clear and convincing evidence” The ownership of real estate itself can provide prima facie proof of a person’s ability to pay. The appellant in this case transferred commercial real estate interests to his brother and real property in the Adirondacks to his father. Those questionable transfers provide prima facie evidence that he had real property interests and had the ability to pay his obligations.

The Court further find that the court did not err by failing to suspend the father’s support obligations while he was incarcerated. Family Court Act § 455(4) provides in pertinent part:”Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of this article, the provision of any order issued under this article requiring the payment of money by one spouse for the support of the other shall be suspended and inoperative so far as punishment for contempt is concerned during the period in which the defaulting spouse is imprisoned pursuant to any order adjudging him or her in contempt for failure to comply with any provision in such order”.

The Court of Appeals has held that when determining whether to suspend the accrual of support payments during a period of incarceration, the court may consider whether a supporting parent’s claimed financial difficulties are the result of that parent’s intentional conduct. Where, as here, the parent is imprisoned for civil contempt for failure to pay support, such payments should continue to accrue during the term of imprisonment. However, the appellant cannot be punished for contempt for failing to make payments accruing while he is incarcerated.

A person’s liability to give support should depend on his ability to give support. Here in Stephen Bilkis and Associates, our Suffolk County Child Support lawyers determine the amount of support to be given to a child and the ability of the party to give support. Call us now for a reliable and competitive advise.

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