I have previously written that a child support obligation can be suspended or terminated in situations where the court makes a finding that the child has deliberately severed his/her relationship with a parent, thereby abandoning that parent. However, in order for a court to make a finding of abandonment, the child must be of employable age.
Even if the child is not of employable age, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation can be suspended or terminated, if the breakdown in the parent-child relationship came as a result of the actions of the custodial parent.
In Ledgin v. Ledgin, 36 A.D.3d 669 (2nd Dept. 2007), the Appellate Division held that interference with visitation rights can be the basis for the cancellation of arrears of maintenance and the prospective suspension of both maintenance and child support. However, such relief is warranted only where the custodial parent’s actions rise to the level of “deliberate frustration” or “active interference” with the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights.
In Frances W. v Steven M., 15 Misc.3d 839 (Fam. Ct. Queens Co. 2007), the court held that the petitioner was not entitled to child support where she intentionally aided her sister in brainwashing the child, who is almost 20 years old, into falsely believing that the father had sexually abused her when she was an infant, and otherwise poisoned the child’s relationship with the respondent from the time she was four years old. The court stated that since the petitioner was an active participant in destroying her niece’s relationship with the father, “she was precluded from obtaining child support from the respondent as a matter of fundamental fairness.”
In S.M.B. v D.R.B, 17 Misc.3d 1132(A) (Fam. Ct. Onondaga Co. 2007), the petitioner's father sought vacatur of an order of support contained in the parties’ divorce judgment, which incorporated their opt-out agreement. Father began his action after the mother engaged in a pattern of active interference and deliberate frustration with the child’s relationship with the father. Mother was very angry that the father paid no more child support than what’s been ordered by the court. Mother has withheld their father’s access to the child since she moved to Florida and remarried. The court found that the mother’s acts of alienation were not isolated incidents but a continuing pattern. The court further found that the child now shows no interest in having a relationship with their father because of his mother’s unfortunate endeavors. Father’s support obligation was vacated since father met his burden of establishing that his mother unjustifiably frustrated his right to reasonable access.
If the child is not of employable age, and the custodial parent did not interfere with the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child, the non-custodial parent’s obligation to pay child support will not be terminated by the court. Foster v. Daigle, 25 A.D.3d 1002 (3rd Dept. 2006).
Since most of these cases are tried on the issue of parental interference, it is important that each such case, before it is brought, is carefully screened by an experienced family law lawyer. Because parental interference cases require a significant level of proof, it is important that a petitioner is represented by an attorney familiar with such cases.