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Father was unable to rebut presumption that he willful violated a child support order. Movsovich v. Wood, 178 A.D.3d 1441 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019).


The case of Movsovich v. Wood, a Family Court Act article 4 proceeding, addresses issues related to child support enforcement. The respondent appeals a decision that addressed the willful violation of a child support order and its consequences.

In New York, prima facie evidence of a willful violation of a child support order arises when there is a presumption that a respondent has sufficient means to support their minor children, and there is evidence demonstrating a failure to pay support as ordered. This presumption is codified n Family Court Act § 454(3)(a). When the party receiving child support presents evidence that the respondent has not complied with the court-ordered support obligations, it creates a prima facie case of willful violation.

Once the custodial parent establishes this prima facie case, the burden shifts to the noncustodial parent (the respondent) to provide credible and competent evidence demonstrating an inability to make the required support payments. The noncustodial parent must present evidence showing reasonable efforts to obtain gainful employment or any other circumstances that might hinder their ability to meet the support obligation.

Failure on the part of the respondent to rebut this presumption or present compelling evidence may lead the court to find a willful violation, potentially resulting in legal consequences such as fines, probation, or other remedies as deemed appropriate by the court. It is crucial for respondents facing such allegations to present comprehensive and credible evidence to contest the presumption of willful violation.

The respondent in Movsovich v. Wood  sought to challenge the Support Magistrate’s determination that he willfully violated a prior child support order. The petitioner presented evidence demonstrating the respondent’s failure to comply with the support obligations, triggering a presumption of willful violation.

The primary issue revolves around whether the respondent adequately rebutted the presumption of willful violation by presenting credible evidence of his inability to meet the child support payments.

Holding and Discussion
The court unanimously affirmed the order, supporting the determination that the respondent willfully violated the child support order. The decision emphasized the petitioner’s establishment of a prima facie case, shifting the burden to the respondent to prove his inability to comply.

The court referenced established legal principles that presume a respondent’s means to support their children. Failure to adhere to court-ordered support constitutes prima facie evidence of willful violation. The respondent’s counterargument required presenting credible evidence demonstrating diligent efforts to gain employment or evidence of a condition preventing employment.

In this case, the respondent failed to meet the burden. The court noted the absence of evidence illustrating active efforts to secure gainful employment. Moreover, the respondent did not provide adequate medical evidence supporting his claim of a condition preventing employment.

The court’s decision aligns with precedent, emphasizing the significance of presenting competent and credible evidence to counter the presumption of willful violation. It underscores the dual responsibility of the parties involved in child support disputes: the petitioner to establish the prima facie case, and the respondent to offer substantive evidence rebutting the presumption.

When it comes to child support cases, it is possible to rebut the presumption of willful violation of a child support order. The  respondent must present credible evidence demonstrating a genuine inability to meet the support obligations. This may involve providing the court with documentation of efforts to secure gainful employment or evidence of a substantial change in financial circumstances. Additionally, offering proof of a valid reason, such as a medical condition, that impedes the ability to maintain employment can be crucial. A well-substantiated case, presented with transparency and honesty, can help the respondent overcome the prima facie evidence of willful violation and present a compelling argument for the court’s consideration. However, the repondent in Movsovich v. Wood was not able to.

Movsovich v. Wood serves as a noteworthy case exemplifying the legal intricacies surrounding child support enforcement. The court’s insistence on meeting evidentiary standards underscores the importance of a thorough and well-documented defense when challenging allegations of willful violation. This case reiterates the courts’ commitment to upholding the best interests of the child and ensuring that child support orders are enforced judiciously.

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