Former MP Duncan D. Hunter failed to pay child and spousal support while he was on “permanent leave” to Poland and back this year, his estranged wife told the court on Thursday.
“He did not [sent] a dime since April – not even $25 or alimony, and I think he should have been able to do something,” Margaret Hunter told Judge CJ Mody of El Cajon Family Court.
Hunter’s lawyer painted a different picture of his three-month trip to Europe.
The disgraced former GOP MP, who has been unemployed since January, traveled to Poland to “help … build connections” and “find some sort of employment there through those connections,” said Leslie Abrigo, a family law attorney in Poland Chula Vista.
She also said Hunter, a Navy combat veteran, is now considering using the GI bill to get his contractor’s license — a return to his type of work before Congress.
In the end, Mody granted Hunter his requested “downward revision” of his alimony based on the DissoMaster computer program and the court’s guidelines.
Beginning July 1, he is scheduled to pay Margaret $1,038 a month in child support (for 15-year-old daughter Sarah, who lives with her mother in La Mesa) and $323 a month in spousal support.
Hunter, 45, was sentenced a year ago to pay $2,212 a month in spousal support and $1,743 in child support. But since Duncan lost his full-time job in January and Margaret is now demanding a gross monthly wage of $3,175, the judge rebalanced the payments.
Mody also ordered the couple, who have been separated since September 2019 over their corruption scandal, to split Sarah’s healthcare costs 50-50. He is also required to file weekly reports with Margaret, 47, showing he has made at least 10 contacts for possible employment.
A half-day process has been scheduled for January 31, 2023 to decide how disputed debt and assets should be divided, including a 5% part-time stint and a retirement account. But Margaret seemed open to private mediation – which would avert a public trial.
Margaret called the El Cajon courthouse hearing at the hearing — but didn’t make herself visible on a Microsoft Teams screen. Duncan sat with his attorney in the quiet second-floor courtroom, which consisted of only court officials and a lone news reporter.
Not a word was said by either party or the judge about Hunter’s six-year congressional career — which ended after he and his wife pleaded guilty to rampant misuse of campaign funds. (They were later pardoned by then-President Trump, sparing Duncan 11 months in prison.)
But details of her final life escaped.
Duncan Hunter said he’s been living rent-free with his parents on their 4,000-square-foot estate in the Alps since his split. He described his quarters: a single ensuite bedroom, with no living room or kitchen, in his ‘wing’ of the 5 bedroom, 6 bathroom house (with adjoining 3 bedroom rental unit).
Mody asked him about the “fair rental value” of the entire home of former Congressman Duncan Lee Hunter and his wife Lynne.
“I have no idea, Your Honor,” Hunter said.
In lieu of rent, Hunter said he helps out with chores around his parents’ 3-acre property — a total of 30 to 40 hours that year. He cited “dirt work, sewage work, water work, landscaping. Clean, repair.”
Margaret, whose maiden name is Jankowski from her native Poland, said she works as a CNA – a certified nursing assistant.
“I have two years in college (credit) that don’t count anymore — it’s been too long,” she said. “I was supposed to start school on July 5th and I can’t physically because the schedule just doesn’t work with a full-time job. … Being CNA is not an option for me for the next 15 years.”
Attorney Abrigo said Hunter was hoping to find employment soon and is now borrowing to pay child support and bills. His parents loaned him “several thousand” that year, the court said.
Judge Mody said this “leaves the court with questions as to whether these are in fact loans or gifts to Mr Hunter.”
Margaret had her own questions.
“I’m a bit confused about what money he’s getting. I wasn’t aware of … unemployment insurance,” she said. Hunter announced he receives $1,620 a month in federal unemployment benefits.
Margaret said his spring trip to “a third world country” helped him increase his income.
“He can live very comfortably on the money he got a month,” Margaret said. But she wondered why he would leave America with a military disability (this was not stated).
“I think he would like to stay at home and not go to a war zone,” she said. … It just looks like he’s … on permanent leave … and I think some of the details on his expense report are questionable to me.”
Aside from a “lump sum” payment earlier this year, Margaret “has not received any money since mid-January,” she said.
The judge noted that Duncan reported spending an estimated $500 a month on groceries, $750 on “eating out,” and $250 on clothing.
Mody attempted to break down their respective tax liabilities. But Margaret and Duncan both said they had yet to file the 2021 taxes – having applied for extensions.
Margaret last filed her expense and income statement with the court in June 2021 and said her rent went from $2,300 to $2,800 a month.
“In September 2019 I had no choice but to get an apartment,” she said, noting that “all of our pets” live with her along with Sarah. (Two other children, a son and a daughter, are out of the home.)
Margaret, who had moved to America with her family from Poland, met the Junior Hunter of Granite Hills High School on election night in 1992 through his father’s congressional office, where she volunteered. They married in 1998.
In court, they only referred to themselves as “Miss Hunter” and “Mr. Hunter.” The same goes for Mody, who eschews the traditional honorific of “Congressman Hunter.”
Mody noted that Margaret filed her dissolution request on November 20, 2020.
“We are rapidly approaching the two-year mark on this case,” he said, “and this case must proceed to its resolution or judgment.”