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Roopa Raja v. Sivasubramania Periyasamy

August 28, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FM-12-2106-10-H.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 18, 2012

Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.

Sivasubramania Periyasamy (husband) appeals from a Dual Final Judgment of Divorce (JOD) dated February 28, 2011, ordering him to pay $1452 per month in permanent alimony to his former spouse, respondent Roopa Raja (wife). Husband's main contentions on appeal are that the trial judge erred (1) by failing to consider an appropriate award of rehabilitative alimony, awarding instead permanent alimony, and (2) by misapplying wife's standard of living during the marriage, which resulted in an excessive alimony award. Following our review of the arguments advanced on appeal, in light of the record and applicable law, we affirm.


A two day trial was held in the Family Part, with wife and husband providing the only testimony. They were married in India in 1993, and a son was born of the marriage in 1995. Husband, born in 1960, is an IT consultant who earns approximately $83,000 per year, and wife, born in 1972, is a hotel receptionist who earns approximately $24,000 per year.

After almost seventeen years of marriage, wife filed a divorce complaint on April 27, 2010. In her oral decision, the trial judge noted that, in addition to the dissolution of the marriage, the issues presented at trial were related to alimony, child support, allocation of credit card debt, college contribution, and counsel fees. Husband appeals only the court's award of alimony. The judge noted that her decision was grounded in the thirteen factors enumerated under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b.*fn1

N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b provides four types of alimony: rehabilitative, reimbursement, limited duration, and permanent. Rehabilitative alimony is designed to enable the supported spouse to "complete the preparation necessary for economic self-sufficiency." Hill v. Hill, 91 N.J. 506, 509 (1982). Payments cease once the dependent spouse has attained the ability to support oneself. Hughes v. Hughes, 311 N.J. Super. 15, 31 (App. Div. 1998). Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded when "the marriage is relatively short and the recipient spouse is capable of full employment based on experience, additional training or further education." Heinl v. Heinl, 287 N.J. Super. 337, 348 (App. Div. 1996); Finelli v. Finelli, 263 N.J. Super. 403, 406 (Ch. Div. 1992).

The following summarizes the judge's findings relevant to this appeal.

With regard to the first factor, the actual need and ability of the parties to pay, there was a disparity in the parties' income levels: wife earns $24,000 per year, while husband earns approximately $83,000 per year. The judge rounded up wife's monthly expenses to the amount of $2900, while her available net monthly income was $1448. Husband listed his monthly expenses to be $3418, which included $1200 in hotel accommodations required for his business travel and temporary housing needs associated with the parties' separation. The judge found husband's assertion of $1200 in monthly hotel expenses was "grossly exaggerated and lacking in any justification and quite simply incredulous." Husband testified that he has been living out of his car, yet alleged he still incurs $1200 per month for hotels. Further, the judge found husband "grossly exaggerated" his expenses for restaurants. After review, the judge reduced husband's expenses to what she found was "reasonable," based on the evidence. The judge also noted husband has a total available monthly income of $5012.18, which can "contribute to the needs of [] wife while meeting [husband's] own needs."

With regard to factor three, the age, and physical and emotional health of the parties, wife and husband, at the time of trial, were thirty-eight and fifty years of age, respectively, and in "relatively good health."

The judge found with regard to factor four, the standard of living established in the marriage and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living, "there was limited testimony provided as to the standard of living by the parties." The testimony revealed that they lived in a condominium, situated in a middle-class neighborhood in Plainsboro. However, the parties did not vacation or eat out, their spending was "at a bare minimum," and the majority of their earnings were put in savings or invested.

With regard to factor five, the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties, wife attended three years of college in India but she would need another year of classes to earn her degree. The judge found that wife "presented unreliable hearsay testimony with respect to what would be required for her to obtain a degree in the United States." Wife started working part-time in 2007, and works full-time as a hotel receptionist, earning $24,000 per year. However, even though wife is an educated woman, "there has been limited evidence presented as to her intention to further her education in the United States so that she ...

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