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In re Marriage of Hasabnis

May 09, 2001

IN RE MARRIAGE OF SANJEEV HASABNIS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT, AND SHABNUM HASABNIS, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

Not Released For Publication

IN RE MARRIAGE OF SANJEEV HASABNIS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT, AND SHABNUM HASABNIS, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable, Lisa Ruble Murphy, Judge Presiding.

 We are told Hindu ceremonies are composed of traditions --thousands of years old -- which ordinarily take several hours to perform. A tradition consistent among the several Hindu denominations is the bride and groom walking in a circle around Agni (fire), tied together, seeking blessing for the fourfold attainments: Dharma (religious-merit), Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure), and Moksha (salvation). Here, after a Hindu ceremony and a later civil ceremony in Chicago, the marriage of Sanjeev Hasabnis and Shabnum Parti came to an end. It left behind issues of maintenance and attorneys' fees that we address in this appeal.

INTRODUCTION

Sanjeev and Shabnum were married in a Hindu ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 11, 1996, and in a civil ceremony in Chicago, Illinois, on July 16, 1996. Approximately 16 months later, Sanjeev and Shabnum separated. They attempted to reconcile in January and February 1998, but on May 29, 1998, Sanjeev, the husband, filed a petition for dissolution of marriage.

The trial court entered a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage on July 23, 1999. In this appeal Sanjeev raises issues concerning maintenance and attorney fees. He contends the trial court (1) abused its discretion when it awarded Shabnum $96,000 in non-modifiable maintenance in gross, and (2) incorrectly interpreted section 503(j) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) (750 ILCS 5/503(j) (West 1998)) when it ordered Sanjeev to contribute $55,000 --for a total fee award of $90,000 toward Shabnum's attorneys' fees --without allowing Sanjeev to review Shabnum's attorneys' time records or to present evidence of the "reasonableness and necessity" of her attorneys' fees. We affirm the trial court.

FACTS

The trial on Sanjeev's Petition for Dissolution of Marriage began on November 30, 1998. At the time of trial, Sanjeev was 34 years old, Shabnum was 30 years old, and they did not have any children (adopted or otherwise). The facts of this case are not in dispute.

Sanjeev Hasabnis

Sanjeev is from Illinois and a doctor of osteopathic medicine. Just after Sanjeev and Shabnum's marriage in June 1996, they moved to Evanston. During Sanjeev and Shabnum's marriage, from June 1996 through June 1999, Sanjeev was a resident at Evanston Hospital. Sanjeev completed his residency at Evanston Hospital in 1999, and in July 2000 he began a three-year fellowship in cardiology at Tulane University in New Orleans. Until his fellowship is complete, Sanjeev's annual salary is, and will be, about $30,000.

Sanjeev's non-marital property, which is income-producing, is significantly greater than Shabnum's. Although Sanjeev and Shabnum had little marital property, Sanjeev's non-marital estate at the time of trial was about $1,000,000. As of July 7, 1999, Sanjeev's trust at Mellon Bank held $250,000, and his gift of stock in a Putnam Voyager Fund from his parents - held in a Paine Webber account - had grown to $900,000.

Shabnum Hasabnis

Shabnum is from Georgia and is a licensed optometrist. In 1994 she graduated from optometry school at the University of Alabama and moved back home to Atlanta, Georgia. Shabnum obtained her optometrist license in Georgia, and from April 1995 to November 1995 she worked with an ophthalmologist. In January 1996, Shabnum started working for Pearl Vision, earning an annual salary of about $80,000.

In March 1996, Shabnum left Pearl Vision in anticipation of her marriage to Sanjeev in May 1996. After marrying Sanjeev, and moving to Illinois, Shabnum obtained an Illinois optometrist license. From January 1997 to October 1997, Shabnum worked part-time for LensCrafters, earning about $30.00/hour.

In October 1997, Sanjeev and Shabnum separated. From October 1997 to May 1998, Shabnum was unemployed for reasons related to their separation, e.g., Sanjeev demanded Shabnum leave Illinois for six weeks in November and December 1997 as a condition of his attending marital counseling. Sanjeev filed the petition for dissolution of marriage after the couple failed to reconcile.

Following Sanjeev and Shabnum's separation, Shabnum resumed working at LensCrafters on a part-time basis - May through June 1998. On June 15, 1998, six months before trial and after Sanjeev moved out of their Evanston apartment, Shabnum produced an asset disclosure statement setting forth her 1998 gross income of $6,619 and net income of $4,925. Averaged out for the year, her net monthly income was $988 and her monthly living expenses were $5,085 (a shortfall of about $4,000).

In September 1998, Shabnum moved back to her parent's home in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time of trial, Shabnum was unemployed. However, she did find work on a day-by-day basis as an independent contractor earning about $30.00/hour.

The Parents

Sanjeev and Shabnum's parents were very involved in the couple's meeting, courtship, and marriage. Their parents had several conversations, without Sanjeev and Shabnum, regarding Sanjeev and Shabnum's finances and the extent to which Sanjeev's parents would financially assist the couple while Sanjeev pursued his fellowship and residency. Consequently, Sanjeev's parents provided significant financial assistance to Sanjeev and Shabnum during their three-year marriage.

During the course of Sanjeev and Shabnum's courtship and marriage, they received various gifts from their parents, including a car (a Lexus worth $31,000), money ($26,400 for rent, $6,500 cash, and $3,500 for credit card payments), jewelry and clothing (worth $21,000 in total), and rugs. In addition, Sanjeev and Shabnum acquired various items of marital property, including furniture, furnishings, another automobile, bank accounts, and individual retirement accounts (IRA).

The Trial Court's Memorandum Opinions

The trial court, after considering all the evidence, testimony, and arguments, entered its Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. Attached were three detailed Memorandum Opinions: (1) a Memorandum Opinion on March 23, 1999, containing the trial court's findings and rulings; (2) a Supplemental Memorandum Opinion on May 21, 1999, modifying the prior Memorandum Opinion; and, (3) a Memorandum Opinion on July 23, 1999, containing the trial court's findings and rulings on the issue of Sanjeev's contribution to Shabnum's attorneys' fees.

MARCH 23, 1999, MEMORANDUM OPINION

The trial court, after considering the factors set forth in section 504(a) of the IMDMA (750 ILCS 5/504(a) (West 1998), found:

"-Sanjeev has a considerable non-marital estate;

-Shabnum is currently unemployed and has no income with which to meet her daily needs;

-Shabnum's earning capacity has been impaired, at least on a temporary basis, by her marriage. Shabnum was required to change her employment positions on at least two occasions in order to accommodate Sanjeev's career (i.e., the move to Evanston) and to placate Sanjeev's demands on their marriage (i.e., Sanjeev's demand that Shabnum leave the State of Illinois for six weeks in November, 1997);

-the parties enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle during the course of their marriage; and,

-Shabnum made significant contributions to the domestic duties of the marriage and to the support of Sanjeev's career." Mem. Op. at 6 (March 23, 1999)

Sanjeev contended Shabnum was not a candidate for maintenance because she had the ability to work. He claimed Shabnum intentionally delayed securing full-time employment in anticipation of the trial court's decision. The trial court disagreed.

The court said: "Sanjeev considerably underestimates the negative impact this marriage has had on the progress of Shabnum's career and her employment opportunities." The court then awarded Shabnum $4,000 per month in non-modifiable maintenance, retroactive to June 1988 through May 2000, with Sanjeev to receive credit for the maintenance payments he has made.

Sanjeev was awarded the following non-marital property (totaling over $900,000 as of the date of trial):

(1) the account held at Mellon Bank with a balance of about $173,000 (about $250,000 as of July 7, 1999);

(2) the furniture and furnishings in his possession (about $25,000), which were purchased with funds from his Mellon Bank account;

(3) the Paine Webber account into which the Putnam Gift was transferred with a balance of $778,722.87 (about $900,000 as of July 7, 1999); and,

(4) the First Chicago account in his name (about $1,700). Sanjeev was awarded the following marital property (totaling about $9,100):

(1) the Bank One checking account in his name ...


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