Child Support Settlement Shows Change in Attitude – Divorce Law Blogs Posted by Joseph C. Maya, Esq.
In 2016, Dan v. Dan, 315 Conn. 1 (2014), the Supreme State family law decision that differed most from its predecessors, a post-judgment maintenance modification case. The parties were married 29 years. When the wife filed an amendment due to a significant change in circumstances, the parties had been divorced for more than nine years. At the time the parties divorced, the husband was earning a base salary of $696,000. He stipulated that assuming that salary, he would pay alimony of $15,000 a month. He also agreed to pay 25 percent of “certain performance-based bonuses.” At the time of the amendment hearing, the husband’s base salary had more than quintupled to $3.24 million. The wife received $8,000 to $12,000 annually in dividend and interest income. Although she based her request for an amendment in part on her ill health, she was unable to show the trial court that her medical expenses had increased since the dissolution order.
The parties claimed that circumstances had changed significantly due to the significant increase in the ex-husband’s income. The trial court considered factors in Connecticut Articles 46b-82 in determining a modified alimony payment of $40,000 per month. Emphasizing the significant upward trend in the ex-husband’s salary, the trial court upheld the apportionment of his performance-related bonus agreed by the parties as part of the original dissolution order. The court of first instance also modified the agreed, fixed-term maintenance period.
The trial court found that certain §46b-82 factors “weighed heavily” and that it “did not give much weight at all” to the needs of the parties because there was “more than enough income to meet the needs of all and to surpass group.” The court stated that in this case it considered the relevant legal factors to be “the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the status and occupation of the parties, the level and sources of income”. [and] the professional skills of the parties.” Upon the husband’s motion for articulation, the court stated that it had not compared the difference in the factors that arose between the dissolution judgment and the amendment order.
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s verdict, finding that the trial court had not abused its discretion and citing the statute based on Borkowski v. Borkowski (1994) that the trial court after finding a material change in circumstances had duly considered the same §46b-82 criteria that a court must use to determine an initial alimony payment. The trial court not only had to consider §46b-82 factors that had changed since the dissolution judgment. The Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court ruled that an increase in the ex-husband’s income alone was not a sufficient basis for changing the maintenance claim. The Court delineated and did not deviate from the historical recitation of the applicable Support Amendment Act. However, the court did not end there. His decision appears to reflect a changing attitude towards child support payments and is rooted in an examination of the purpose of child support payments. The Supreme Court found the appeals court’s decision wrong, reversed it, and remanded it to the trial court for a new hearing.
The judges required the trial court to apply the new standard articulated in the Dan case that “in the absence of certain exceptional circumstances … an increase in income alone does not warrant a change in alimony.” The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred in not specifically addressing whether such exceptional circumstances existed; The trial court needed to determine whether the original alimony claim continued to be sufficient to serve its original purpose. The Supreme Court emphasized Borkowski’s language that when considering an amendment after the ruling, “the discretion of the court process includes only the power to adapt the order to a specific and clear change in circumstances or the condition of the parties.”
The Supreme Court reviewed the purpose of alimony, concluding that an increase in the alimony’s income “in itself will not ordinarily justify the granting of a motion to modify alimony.” The court found that a legitimate purpose of alimony is to secure the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. The Supreme Court referred to the case of Roach v. Roach of the 1990 Court of Appeals, pointing to temporary alimony as an example of another practical purpose of alimony: to encourage the alimony recipient to be self-sufficient. Noting that an alimony payee does not help the alimony payer earn an income after the divorce, the court found that there is no reason for the payee to achieve a standard of living that the paying spouse achieves after the divorce . In making amending orders, the court’s discretion “must be limited by the public policies underlying the laws governing marriage dissolution and by the general purposes of alimony payments.” The court ruled that an upward adjustment in alimony based solely on an increase in the payer’s income could not serve such public policy or purpose.
In conclusion, the court once again relied on Borkowski language, cited above, to limit the legal factors that may be considered when filing a request for modification of alimony when “the only change in circumstances is an increase in the supporting spouse’s income.” In such a case, the trial court may consider factors that are immutable and “presumably taken into account by the dissolution court in determining the purpose and amount of the original maintenance claim” only to determine the original intent of the claim. The factors listed are the length of the marriage, the reason for the divorce, and the age, status, professional skills, and employability of the parties. In certain cases it is clear why alimony is being paid. In most cases, however, alimony is part of the dissolution of the bundle of rights and obligations that are considered when a marriage is dissolved. This is especially true when the parties resolve their matter with an unchallenged agreement, as is so often the case and encouraged by the regularly cited Connecticut public policy.
If you have questions regarding family law matters, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or email JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
Source: CT Law Tribune