The phrases “he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” and “you get what you pay for” proved to be true in the recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision of Andreaci v. Andreaci, App. Div. Docket No. A-1934-08T31934-08T3, decided, January 25, 2010. In Andreaci, after 16 years of marriage, husband filed for divorce. The husband represented himself and the wife had a pro bono lawyer. The parties reached a settlement which was memorialized into a Marital Settlement Agreement and incorporated into the parties’ Judgment of Divorce. The Agreement provides, in pertinent part, the following:

  1. Wife obtained custody of the parties to two children and ownership of the marital home;
  2. The second home owned by the parties was to be sold, and the proceeds held for the education of the children; and
  3. Husband was required to pay $800 per week/$3,466 per month (Said sum was designed to cover the cost of the monthly mortgage payment of approximately $3,000 per month).

The husband quickly fell behind on his child support payments. He was incarcerated on a bench warrant for non-support, and borrowed $5,000 to obtain his release from jail. Thereafter, husband filed a motion to seeking to reduce his support payments and other ancillary relief.  The trial court set the matter down for a plenary hearing and in the interim reduced husband’s support payments to $225 per week.

The trial court conducted a hearing and held that under the terms of the parties’ Marital Agreement, 91% of the parties’ combined income went to wife leaving the husband only $667 per month on which to live. The trial court further held that under these circumstances, enforcing the parties’ Agreement would be “unjust, oppressive and inequitable. The trial court set aside the child support payment provision and calculated husband’s child support obligation in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines to be $240 per week/$1040 per month. The trial court also required that he pay an additional $120 per week toward arrears.

The Wife appealed the trial court’s decision contending that the parties’ agreement should be enforced, that no exceptional or compelling circumstances are present to justify a reduction in child support, and that no changed circumstances are present to warrant a reduction in the child support payments. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision based upon the trial courts sensible and cogent opinion.

Had the husband retained counsel, he would have been advised that $840 per week in child support far exceeded his obligation pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. He would have also been advised of his correct obligation. Had the husband heeded his lawyer’s advice, he would not have ended up in jail because he would have been able to meet his more reasonable child support payments. With regard to the Wife, she now is living in a house that has a $3,000 per month mortgage payment. Her child support has been reduced to $1,040 per month and she receives no alimony. Clearly, the total amount of support she receives per month does not cover the mortgage as was originally intended. The moral of this case is….hire a lawyer who handles predominately family law matters when going through a divorce to help navigate through all the pitfalls.