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Hopkins v. Hopkins

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 24, 2013

YVONNE A. HOPKINS, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
DAVID O. HOPKINS, Defendant-Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 7, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FM-20-0979-03.

David O. Hopkins, appellant pro se.

Respondent has not filed a brief.

Before Judges Alvarez and Waugh.

PER CURIAM

Defendant David O. Hopkins appeals a January 10, 2012 order of the Family Part requiring him to pay $700 per month in alimony, calculating alimony arrears retroactive to November 29, 2006, and ordering him to pay $300 per month towards that sum. The payee, plaintiff Yvonne A. Hopkins, is defendant's former wife. We affirm.

We will not detail the extensive procedural history in this matter, as it is not relevant to the issues before us. Suffice it to say that this is defendant's third appeal from alimony orders. In addition to challenging the monetary award, defendant also appeals from the trial judge's denial of his application that she recuse herself from the case. The judge rendered her decision after a plenary hearing conducted over two days, resulting from the remand in the second appeal taken by defendant. See Hopkins v. Hopkins (Hopkins II), No. A-4431-08 (App. Div. Sept. 30, 2010) (slip op. at 7). Defendant was ordered to pay $300 per week in alimony for the period of November 29, 2006, through November 30, 2008; $975 per month from December 1, 2008, through December 31, 2009; $650 per month from January 1, 2010, through August 31, 2010; and $700 per month from February 1, 2011, through December 31, 2011. The $700 ongoing obligation and $300 towards arrears was ordered effective January 2012.

The parties divorced in 2006 after a long-term marriage. They have three adult children, one of whom suffered a severe brain injury in 1998 as the result of a hit-and-run accident. He requires round-the-clock care and lives with plaintiff. Plaintiff, formerly a music teacher, last worked in 1997, then earning $33, 750. Commencing in 2010, she began to receive $717 per month in Social Security benefits. The child residing with her receives $620.30 in Social Security benefits because of his disability, and an additional $100 per month in Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff moved to Texas to reside with family, but the arrangements were unsatisfactory. In 2010 she returned to New Jersey. She is currently involved in Texas litigation over money she expended to make the home in which she was then living wheelchair accessible. Her current case information statement reflects modest monthly living expenses totaling $2362. Her combined monthly income for herself and her disabled child is $1437.

Defendant earned $65, 000 in 2002, which included income from his job as a business telephone salesman. His income decreased in subsequent years, with approximate earnings of $57, 000 in 2003, $49, 000 in 2004, $41, 000 in 2005, $40, 000 in 2006, $43, 000 in 2007, and $39, 000 in 2008, including approximately $5000 in unemployment benefits. Defendant's employer terminated him in 2008. He received $528 weekly in unemployment benefits, ending in September 2010.

Defendant worked in pharmaceutical sales earlier in his career, but believed he was no longer qualified to work in the field. He interviewed for a position as a legislative director at a political organization, but did not receive the job.

Defendant stopped looking for work after his unemployment benefits ran out in 2010, testifying that he became discouraged, and retired. He was sixty-three years old when he chose to retire rather than continue looking for work. Defendant currently receives $1512 per month in Social Security benefits; until recently, he also possessed a real estate license. Defendant only earned two commissions in the past ten years, $1300 for selling a lot to Habitat for Humanity, and $6000 for selling a house to a connection he made while volunteering on a political campaign. He let his license lapse in June 2011 rather than pay the $500 fee to renew it. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently holds a tax lien of $360, 000 against defendant, who has previously completed bankruptcy proceedings. He anticipates the IRS will write off its lien as uncollectable in the near future. In the bankruptcy, defendant discharged almost $200, 000 in credit card debt.

Defendant currently lives with his brother in a home formerly owned by his deceased mother and currently owned by his sister. He pays $800 in property taxes and other expenses in lieu of rent, in addition to utilities. He presented a monthly budget of $2161, while claiming earnings of only $1459 in Social Security. Plaintiff is sixty-five years of age; defendant is sixty-six years old. Defendant has accumulated nine new credit cards since ...


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