Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bookbinding on Trial in Divorce Case

This week on Booktryst Divorce Court:

For twenty-seven years, Robert Eick, a fifty-seven year old bookbinder in Madison, New Jersey, has been operating as R.A. Eick Quality Bookbinding.

He and his wife divorced in 2007 after twenty-nine years of marriage. He was ordered to pay alimony as well as child support for their two minor children remaining at home.

In 2009, Eick filed a motion to have his alimony and support obligations diminished. Why? His business was taking a swan dive into a shallow pool; bookbinding "has declined drastically, to wit:

"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."

The trial judge heard oral argument on July 17, 2009. Eick's motion was denied. The judge stated:

"Certainly it is true that these are economically challenged times. But, again, Lepis [v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980)] requires not only a substantial change of circumstance, but a demonstration that those changes are permanent.

"And we can question whether, given the nature of the bookbinding business, the change is in fact permanent. But I certainly cannot take current economic conditions as a justification for reducing the voluntarily agreed to obligations, because these economic conditions, as referred to by the plaintiff, are - one can only hope and anticipate - temporary.

"It is a difficult decision that needs to be left to the courts to make based on a consideration of all of the circumstances. Again, the court recognizes that there may in all likelihood be some impact on the plaintiff's earnings, I should say, income, by virtue of the fact that we are in difficult economic times.

"But given the fact that the issues facing the bookbinding industry in 2007, the prospect of it being a promising business even as of 2007, the court concludes that plaintiff had the same issues that he's looking at now, only further complicated by the fact that we are in economically difficult times.

"So, the changes in the bookbinding business industry from 2007 to today are virtually nonexistent. They are about the same. They are just further complicated by the fact that we have a temporary economic situation that we anticipate will rebound.

"So, based on all of those circumstances, the court concludes that the plaintiff has not met the threshold requirement of demonstrating a permanent and substantial change of circumstances that would warrant modification of either the alimony or the child support obligations."

Eick appealed the judge's decision. The appeal was decided on August 18, 2010.

We will spare you the legal details. Suffice it to say, Eick won this round due to his ex-wife's increased income and the fact that, according to the appellant judge,

"the trial judge did not make adequate findings with respect to whether the reduction in plaintiff's earnings was of a permanent or temporary nature...For example, notwithstanding plaintiff's undisputed allegations as to why his bookbinding business had decreased, the judge found that 'changes in the bookbinding business industry from 2007 to today are virtually nonexistent.' We discern no substantial, credible evidence of record to support that finding.

"The judge further found that plaintiff 'had the same issues that he's looking at now,' as he had in 2007, but acknowledged that those 'issues' were 'further complicated by the fact that we are in economically difficult times.' Notwithstanding this latter finding, however, the judge declined to find that plaintiff had, as a result, suffered a permanent diminution in his earnings; this was apparently the result of the judge's 'hope and anticipat[ion]' that the 'current economic conditions' are 'temporary.'

"In sum, we are satisfied that plaintiff has made a prima facie showing of changed circumstances sufficient to warrant discovery and a plenary hearing."

Good thing. Eick must surely be frustrated, on the verge of cracking his hinges, yet stab-stitching an officer of the court - and, certainly, one's ex-wife - is bad form if not a felony in most jurisdictions across the country.

It is always sad when the ties that bind are broken. Marry that to bindings tied to broken bond and promised bread and you have a situation bound to become another dark chapter in the book of love.

We now await the outcome of Eick v. Eick: Is the Bookbinding Business As Rotten As Petitioner Claims? Is the trade going to hell in a Halifax binding?

Or, the documentary, Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Bookbinders, based upon the  hit self-help book for gold-diggers of either sex, Never Marry a Bookbinder (Unless You Want Someone Really Good  With Their Hands).

In the meantime, you, Booktryst reader, are judge and jury. Oyez, oyez, oyez! What say you?

Full transcript of the appellant judge's decision here.

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