Last week, I published a blog post entitled "No Hearing Required for Serial Modification Motions." To view that post, click here. However, released on February 9th was the unreported decision in the case of Cordero v. Mora with a different result. To view the full text of the case, click here.
This case involves the former Major League baseball player, Will Cordero, who was seeking, once again, to reduce his child support obligation for the child of his first marriage. 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. He now claims to be out of baseball, having last played in the Major Leagues in 2005. He participated in spring training in 2007 with the Mets in their minor league camp but was cut.
Over the years, Mr. Cordero has filed many application to reduce his support. In 2005 resulted in a reduction of child support from $1300 to $800 weekly. The following year, he sought and obtained another reduction based on a substantial salary reduction. from $800 to $500 weekly. On appeal,
he argued he should have received a greater reduction. In June 2007, that argument was rejected by the Appellate DIvision. However, just prior thereto, the ex-wife filed an enforcement motion and Mr. Cordero filed another motion seeking a reduction. The judge granted the motion to enforce the existing order. In addition, the judge ordered him 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.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the Appellate Division reversed finding that Mr. Cordero was entitled to a hearing because he no longer had his earned income as a professional baseball player. The Court held:
Any consideration of a request to reduce a child support award cannot focus solely on the amount of income earned in the past. The judge must also consider the type of work performed by the obligor that produced the income. This is particularly
true when the obligor is a professional athlete. At the height of a career, a professional athlete may earn vast sums of money. The ability to earn such an income is almost always transitory. Here, there is no question that plaintiff has not played professional baseball since 2005, when he was cut by the Washington Nationals. He obtained a minor league contract with the New York Mets organization but did not make the team. While a court may impute income, Caplan v. Caplan, 182 N.J. 250, 268- 69 (2005), a judge cannot assume that the obligor will continue
to earn income at the same level as an active professional athlete unless the athlete has other exceptional attributes. There is nothing in this record to suggest that is the case. Admittedly, current income is not the sole focus of an analysis of a request to reduce child support. The judge must consider the moving party’s ability to earn income in the future. Such an inquiry must consider the education and other
abilities demonstrated by the moving party. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. The judge must also consider the assets of the moving party and the ability of those assets to produce income to meet the moving party’s obligations.
The Court, however, reiterated that Mr. Cordero has the burden of proof to demonstrate that he is entitled to a further reduction of his child support obligation. He was required to fully disclose his financial condition, including the value of his major league baseball and the the terms and conditions of this pension,. He also was required to disclose the obligations he has assumed in the course of the dissolution of his 2 subsequent marriages.
However, can the case in this post and the one in last week’s post be reconciled. In both cases, the disclosures were lacking. The difference here is that, unlike the self employed lawyer who can manipulate his income, Mr. Cordero’s status as a major league ball player was easy to discern and the loss of income from that pursuit virtually impossible to dispute.