On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FM-14-651-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall, Messano and LeWinn.
In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, plaintiff, Robert Eick, appeals from the July 17, 2009 order of the Family Part denying his motion to modify his alimony and child support obligations. We reverse and remand for a plenary hearing.
The parties were married in February 1978 and divorced in February 2007. They have three children, one of whom is emancipated, and the other two are eighteen and sixteen years old respectively.
For the past twenty-seven years, plaintiff has been self-employed as a bookbinder; his business is known as R.A. Eick Bookbinding, which he has run as a solo operation for the past seventeen years. The parties' Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) provides for plaintiff to pay permanent alimony of $1500 per month and $2000 per month in child support for the two younger children. These support obligations were based upon the parties' respective 2005 annual incomes of $117,000 for plaintiff and $29,000 for defendant. The PSA further states that the child support amount "is a negotiated sum and is in excess of the Child Support Guidelines[,]" and therefore is "not . . . subject to periodic Cost of Living Adjustments."
On March 10, 2009, plaintiff filed a motion to reduce his support obligations based on a claimed change of circumstances, namely that his business "has declined drastically." Specifically, plaintiff certified:
My main customers are law firms. Now that they have access to online research databases their need for my product has diminished substantially. The decline in my business is an industry wide issue . . . . I have been in the book binding business for the last 27 years. . . .
My business is extremely specialized. At the time of our divorce, my income from my business was $117,000.00. Defendant was earning $29,000.00 per year. As indicated on my current Case Information Statement [(CIS)], my total business income in 2007 was down to $89,270.00, with an adjusted gross income of $51,692 a reduction of $27,730.00 and $65,308.00 respectfully [sic]. In 2008, my gross business income was only $82,948.00 and my adjusted gross income was approximately $36,783.00. The decline in my business is a result of changes in technology. My customers, who in the past would have bound their books have started to put everything on disks or the internet.
The book binding business has decreased rapidly on account of the use of electronic research systems, growth of imported bound printed material and the general downturn in the economy.
Plaintiff submitted a report by a vocational expert, David B. Stein, which concluded that he "has the capacity to learn new skills, although [he] is of advanced age vocationally,*fn1 where changing careers is not a realistic possibility. His best option is to remain in his occupation, but to anticipate continued diminution of business volume, along with revenues and earnings." Stein further recommended that plaintiff "consider the services of a career counselor or business consultant to determine his business options and possible alternatives."
Defendant filed a cross-motion to enforce plaintiff's support obligations. She certified that defendant has been behind in his support payments.
Defendant appended a current CIS showing that her gross earned income (i.e., exclusive of alimony) in 2008 was $43,321; she also appended pay stubs showing ...