Former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter failed to pay child and spousal support while on a “permanent holiday” to Poland and back this year, his estranged wife told a court Thursday.
“He has not [sent] a dime since April — not even $25 or any support payments, and I believe he should have been able to do something,” Margaret Hunter told Judge C.J. Mody in El Cajon family court.
Hunter’s lawyer drew a different picture of his three-month European trip.
The disgraced former GOP lawmaker, unemployed since January, traveled to Poland to “help establish … connections” and find some “sort of employment through those relationships there,” said Leslie Abrigo, a Chula Vista family law attorney.
She also said Hunter, a Marine combat veteran, was now looking into using the GI Bill to get his contractor’s license — a return to his pre-Congress type of work.
In the end, Mody granted Hunter his requested “downward modification” of his support payments based on the computer program DissoMaster and court guidelines.
Starting July 1, he’s to send 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, a year ago was ordered to pay $2,212 in monthly spousal support and $1,743 in child support. But with Duncan losing his full-time job in January and Margaret claiming $3,175 in gross monthly wages now, the judge rejiggered the payments.
Mody also ordered the couple, separated since September 2019 amid their corruption scandal, to split Sarah’s health-care costs 50-50. He also must file weekly reports with Margaret, 47, showing he’s made at least 10 contacts for possible employment.
A half-day trial was set for Jan. 31, 2023, to decide how to split any contested debts and assets, including a 5% time share and a retirement account. But Margaret appeared open to private mediation — which would avert a public trial.
Margaret phoned into the hearing at the El Cajon courthouse — but didn’t make herself visible on a Microsoft Teams screen. Duncan sat with his lawyer in the quiet second-floor courtroom with only court staff and a single news reporter attending.
Nary a word was uttered by either party, or the judge, about Hunter’s six-term congressional career — ended after he and his wife pleaded guilty to rampant misuse of campaign donors’ money. (They later were pardoned by then-President Trump, sparing Duncan 11 months in prison.)
But details of their recent lives escaped.
Duncan Hunter said he’s lived with his parents rent-free at their 4,000-square-foot Alpine estate since his separation. He described his quarters: a single room with a bathroom, with no living room or kitchen, in his “wing” of the 5-bedroom, 6-bath house (with adjoining 3-bedroom leased accessory dwelling unit).
Mody asked him the “reasonable rental value” of the entire house 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’s helping out with chores on his parents’ 3-acre property — 30 to 40 hours total this year. He cited “dirt work, sewage work, water work, landscaping. Cleaning, fixing.”
Margaret, whose maiden name is Jankowski from her native Poland, said she’s been working 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 July 5 and I physically can’t because the schedule just doesn’t work with a full-time job. … Being a CNA isn’t an option for me for the next 15 years.”
Attorney Abrigo said Hunter was hoping to become employed soon and meanwhile is taking out loans to pay support and bills. His parents have loaned him “several thousands” this year, the court was told.
Judge Mody said this “leaves the court with questions as to whether or not these are in fact loans or gifts to Mr. Hunter.”
Margaret, acting as her own attorney, had her own questions.
“I’m a little confused with what money he’s receiving. I was not aware … of the unemployment insurance,” she said. Hunter disclosed getting $1,620 a month in state jobless benefits.
Margaret said his spring trip to “a third world country” helped him stretch his income.
“He can live very comfortably on the money he was receiving a month,” Margaret said. But she wondered why he’d leave America with a military disability (that wasn’t specified).
“I would think he would comfortably want to stay home and not travel to a war zone,” she said. … It just seems like he’s … on a permanent holiday … and I think some of the details in his expense report are questionable for me.”
Except for one “lump sum” earlier this year, Margaret “stopped receiving money in mid-January,” she said.
The judge noted Duncan reported spending an estimated $500 a month on groceries, $750 a month on “eating out” and $250 a month on clothes.
Mody tried to drill down on their respective tax liabilities. But Margaret and Duncan both said they haven’t yet filed 2021 taxes — after seeking extensions.
Margaret last filed her expenses-and-income statement with the court in June 2021, and said her rent has risen from $2,300 to $2,800 a month.
“In September 2019, there was no option for me other than to get an apartment,” she said, noting that “all of our pets” are living with her, along with Sarah. (Two other children, a son and a daughter, are out of the house.)
Margaret, who moved to America with her family from Poland, met Granite Hills High School junior Hunter on Election Night 1992 through his father’s congressional office, where she volunteered. They married in 1998.
In court, they referred to each other only as “Miss Hunter” and “Mr. Hunter.” Same for Mody, eschewing the traditional honorific of “Congressman Hunter.”
Mody noted that Margaret filed her petition for dissolution on Nov. 20, 2020.
“We are fast approaching the two-year mark with this case,” he said, “and this case does need to move forward to its resolution or judgment.”