The state Supreme Court on Monday ordered the release of a Hunterdon County man who had been jailed for more than eight weeks for falling behind in his alimony and child support payments and for failing to pay arrears.
The court, in a 5-2 vote, granted John Waldorf’s petition for a stay pending the disposition of his appeal to the Appellate Division. Roseanne DeTorres, the attorney for his former wife, Lisa Waldorf, says Waldorf, 60, walked out of the Hunterdon County Jail Monday afternoon.
The order, signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, also requires the Appellate Division to expedite the appeal. Justice Helen Hoens and Appellate Division Judge Ariel Rodriguez dissented, saying they would not have granted the stay.
Hunterdon County Superior Court Judge Hany Mawla ordered Waldorf jailed on Oct. 19 after he had fallen approximately $60,000 behind in his alimony payments. Mawla, after a lengthy trial earlier this year, had ordered Waldorf to pay $2,000 a week in alimony, based on his 2009 income of $200,000 per year. Waldorf allegedly quit his job as a project manager at Voorhees-based American Water earlier this year so he would not have to continue to make payments.
After a hearing on Dec. 14, Mawla refused Waldorf’s request to be released and he filed an emergent appeal with the Supreme Court. Mawla, according to DeTorres, had offered to release Waldorf if he paid $20,000, but he said he did not have the money.
Waldorf’s case has become something of a cause celebre, especially among those who have been pushing for changes in New Jersey’s alimony statutes.
“He has a very extreme story,” says Tom Leustek, the president of N.J. Alimony Reform. “Any news coverage that explains alimony reform helps our movement.”
The story has been widely covered on nj.com, the website of The Star-Ledger and one of its sister publications, the Hunterdon County Democrat. The stories have spawned thousands of Internet posts, the bulk of which express sympathy for Waldorf’s plight.
On N.J. Alimony Reform’s Facebook page, a person identifying himself as Steven Greenwood posted: “This is an example of the bullshit that the courts and freeloading ex’s [sic] do to destroy people. It needs to end now!”
On nj.com, a person identifying himself as Nathan Webb posted: “The U.S. constitution requires a trial by jury. Except if you get married and hit with alimony you can’t afford. In that case you are less than a citizen, less than human. Better off checking into Guantanamo than sign a marriage certificate. You will have more rights.”
Waldorf is not going free without conditions and the specter of going back to jail looms over his head.
Under the terms of the order, he must pay his ex-wife $1,000 a week beginning tomorrow and get a job from which the Probation Division can garnish his wages within 30 days. Mawla also had ordered Waldorf to pay $3,300 a year in child support.
“Defendant’s failure to comply with the conditions of the stay will subject defendant to such sanctions, including incarceration, as may be ordered by the Chancery Division,” the order says.
DeTorres, of Flemington’s Tettemer & DeTorres, says this is not a case around which alimony-reform advocates should rally.
“John Waldorf is not the poster child for alimony reform,” she says. “He voluntarily left his job in an effort to deliberately deny support to his wife and child.” DeTorres says Waldorf tried to file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13, but had the application rejected after a judge said he appeared to be lying about his assets and liabilities.
His former wife says Waldorf moved to Guatemala shortly after quitting his job, but returned at the behest of his new girlfriend. DeTorres says Superior Court Judge Ann Bartlett, who has heard some motions in the ongoing litigation, earlier ruled that Waldorf had purposefully taken actions to become “underemployed” and thus unable to make his payments.
DeTorres says her client, who has custody of the couple’s 16-year-old son, cannot work because she has Lupus and a degenerative bone disease. In addition to the alimony, she receives Social Security disability payments, DeTorres says.
DeTorres says her client, who has custody of the couple’s 16-year-old son, cannot work because she has Lupus and a degenerative bone disease. Besides alimony, she receives Social Security disability payments, DeTorres says.
Waldorf, who lives in Lebanon Township, denies that he quit his job in order to be underemployed. He says American Water fired him as part of a restructuring. He works as a private consultant, earning $120,000 a year, he says.
Waldorf also takes issue with the claim that his ex-wife cannot work. “I’ve already paid her $400,000,” he says. “She just wants to be a dependent person.”