On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FM-04-1844-93.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Fisher.
In this post-judgment matrimonial appeal, we review an order denying plaintiff Wilfredo Cordero's motion to reduce his child support obligation to the child of his first marriage. We hold that plaintiff, a former major league baseball player, has demonstrated a substantial change of circumstances that has persisted for a sufficient period of time to warrant an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the appropriate level of child support due to this child. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Plaintiff was a professional baseball player. He played with the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals in the major league for fourteen years. He made a substantial amount of money during his career. In some seasons he made as much as $6,000,000.
Cordero's last season as a major league baseball player was 2005, when he played for the Washington Nationals. He participated in Spring training with the New York Mets minor league camp in 2007, but was cut. He has not played baseball since that time.
Plaintiff and defendant Wanda Mora were divorced on June 1, 1994. One child was born of the marriage. Following entry of the judgment of divorce, several orders have been entered adjusting plaintiff's child support obligation. An order effective May 27, 1999, reduced plaintiff's child support obligation from $1300 to $800 weekly. A November 15, 1999 order reduced the child support from $800 to $640 weekly. However, by order dated March 29, 2000, plaintiff's child support increased from $640 to $1300 weekly.
In 2003, plaintiff sought another child support reduction based on a claim of a substantial salary decrease. This application was denied without prejudice because plaintiff had not filed tax returns for 2000 and 2002. Plaintiff appealed but eventually withdrew the appeal.
In 2004, plaintiff filed another motion to reduce his child support obligation. Plaintiff supported this motion with the previously omitted information and demonstrated that his salary decreased from $4,061,464 a year to $600,000. Therefore, by order dated February 16, 2005, a motion judge ordered a reduction of child support from $1300 to $800 weekly. The following year, plaintiff sought and obtained another reduction based on a substantial salary reduction. Plaintiff's child support was reduced from $800 to $500 weekly. On appeal, plaintiff argued he should have received a greater reduction; we affirmed. Cordero v. Mora, Docket No. A-4990-05 (App. Div. June 20, 2007).
On May 9, 2007, defendant filed a motion to enforce the February 16, 2005 order. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for a further reduction. The judge granted the motion to enforce the existing order. In addition, the judge ordered plaintiff to pay $11,999 in arrears within thirty days and denied his motion for a further reduction. The judge noted that plaintiff provided limited and spotty financial information. Based on the information before the court, the judge concluded that plaintiff had the ability to pay the arrears. He also found that plaintiff produced extremely limited information about his efforts to obtain employment and incomplete information about assets that may generate unearned income or can be liquidated to meet his on-going child support obligation. The judge was particularly concerned that plaintiff had not provided an accounting of the millions of dollars he had earned during his professional baseball career.
In support of his motion to further reduce his child support obligation, plaintiff asserted that he is no longer playing baseball at any level, major or minor league. With the demise of his baseball playing career, his substantial earnings have also vanished. He asserted that he has been able to obtain only short term stints at camps, such as Kutsher's Sports Academy, and a position in a deli. He reported that he received $4700 from the sports camp for the period of June 21, 2007 to August 4, 2007. He receives $8.25 per hour for his work at a deli counter.*fn1
In support of his motion, plaintiff relied on a Case Information Statement filed in 2006. This document revealed no salary for 2006, monthly expenses of $20,048, and no assets other than a $100,000 Merrill Lynch account. He has never reported the value of his major league pension but advised the court that he cannot access his pension until he reaches age fifty-five. The record does not reveal whether any Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO) have issued to effect a distribution of this asset.
Plaintiff also stated that he and his third wife divorced in January 2006. He has a child from this marriage, but has not paid child support. Their marital home was sold in 2006 and the proceeds were split between the spouses. He received $345,000. He reported that he used this fund to pay living expenses, including his support ...