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Fatemeh Aabdollah v. Morteza Aabdollah

May 17, 2011


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hunterdon County, Docket No. FM-10-181-06.

Per curiam.


Argued May 3, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo, Espinosa and Skillman.

Following a fifteen-day trial that spanned more than one year, the trial court decided all the economic issues in this matrimonial action in a lengthy oral opinion. In his appeal, defendant challenges the court's decision regarding alimony, equitable distribution and an award of counsel fees to plaintiff. Plaintiff cross-appeals, asserting that the trial court committed error in treating a pension in pay status as income to be considered in determining alimony rather than as an asset subject to equitable distribution. We find no merit in the arguments raised by defendant but reverse and remand on the cross-appeal.

In February 1970, the parties were married in an arranged marriage in Iran in a ceremony in which defendant was represented by proxy by his father. Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce in November 2005. The two children of the marriage were adults when the divorce complaint was filed.

The facts pertinent to the appeal and cross-appeal are set forth in the trial court's lengthy oral opinion and need not be repeated here. We note only the following salient facts.

The trial was plagued by defendant's allegations, ultimately found to be false, and failures to provide documentation necessary to support his claims regarding finances that, as the trial court determined, were designed to minimize, if not eliminate, any financial obligation to plaintiff. By way of example only, we note defendant's inconsistent positions regarding the income producing properties. The properties were purchased solely in defendant's name, and listed on defendant's case information statement as non-marital assets, titled only to him and not subject to equitable distribution. Yet, defendant alleged that plaintiff controlled the finances for the properties in an obvious attempt to deflect any responsibility for the production of relevant financial records that would permit a forensic accountant to determine the income generated from the rental properties and the actual losses. And, when the accountant concluded, based upon the limited records available, that the parties' personal tax returns for 2005 under-reported rental income by over $67,000, it was defendant who produced documentation to refute that amount, causing the accountant to reduce the under-reported income to $66,221.

The trial court made extensive findings to support its conclusion that defendant's testimony was not credible. The sweep of testimony the court found not credible included: defendant's denial that the couple was married; his claim that plaintiff had control of all the marital assets, including all the rental properties; his claim that plaintiff forged his signature on documents refinancing various properties; defendant's allegation that plaintiff received $2 million in inheritance and insurance proceeds from a gentleman for whom she had served as a home health aide; his claim that plaintiff stole his passport; his claim that plaintiff took Persian rugs worth $60,000; his claim that his employment was only temporary and his income unstable, disproved by the fact that he attained tenure as a college professor; his denial that he was licensed as a realtor; his initial disclaimer of any relationship with the man in Dubai to whom he wired $355,000, which the court found defendant diverted from marital assets; his claim that all of his records were stolen during a burglary of his home; his assertion that plaintiff spent "huge amounts of money" on travel; and his unsupported claims of losses for the rental properties. In addition, the court found defendant violated an order of the court by using funds from an equity line for purposes other than those authorized by the court; that it was defendant who forged plaintiff's signature on refinancing documents and that it was defendant who traveled "a great deal." The court also gave reasons for its finding that the realtor who appraised the properties on behalf of plaintiff was more credible than the realtor called by defendant, who had allowed his license to lapse. The court's credibility findings are plainly supported by the evidence and provide a solid foundation for the court's determination of the facts relevant to its disposition of the economic issues.

In addition to its extensive findings on credibility, the trial court addressed each of the statutory factors relating to equitable distribution, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23.1, and alimony, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, and made adequate findings as to each. In the final judgment of divorce, the court awarded permanent alimony to plaintiff of $4,000 per month. In ordering equitable distribution, the court gave plaintiff a credit of $406,500. Plaintiff was also granted the marital residence subject to any existing mortgage; her TIAA-CREF pension; fifty percent of the sale proceeds of a rental property at 118 Honeyman Road, Whitehouse; $100,000 of the sale proceeds from a rental property at 44-46 Myrtle Avenue, Irvington; fifty percent of frequent flyer miles and $150,000 in counsel fees. Defendant retained the remainder of his pensions after the distributions to plaintiff. As to the rental properties, he was awarded fifty percent of the proceeds from 118 Honeyman Road; retained two other properties at 50 Myrtle Avenue in Irvington and 52 Center Street in Bloomsbury, along with all obligations and liabilities for the properties; and was awarded the remainder of any proceeds from the sale of 44-46 Myrtle Avenue after plaintiff received $100,000. In addition, the court ordered that defendant was responsible for all credit card debt and required him to obtain life insurance in the amount of $150,000.

In his appeal, defendant presents the following issues*fn1 for our consideration:



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