An attempt to change a spousal support agreement signed in the United Kingdom was wrongly dismissed by a Connecticut court, a state appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
The majority opinion of the Connecticut Court of Appeals was that the trial court wrongly denied a defendant’s lack of jurisdiction motion to alter alimony because it could not be shown that the foreign court retained jurisdiction after the dissolution of the marriage.
“[W]Nor have we found any other UK authority to make it clear to this court that the UK retains exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed spousal support order,” Judge Thomas A. Bishop wrote for the majority.
Defendant Brian Matthew Olson and plaintiff Cheryl Abbott Olson were American citizens who had previously married in Pennsylvania in May 1998 and later moved to the United Kingdom.
Abroad, the couple dissolved their marriage in December 2009, adding a consent order to the final judgment to distribute their property and assets and make alimony payments, including spousal and child support.
After returning to the US, the plaintiff filed the UK divorce decree in a Connecticut court, seeking two qualified domestic relations orders. Both parties then requested an amendment to the alimony payments, but the trial court denied this due to a lack of supporting evidence and procedural flaws in the plaintiff’s application.
Defendant later filed another motion to change child support based on plaintiff’s cohabitation with a third party, and plaintiff filed a motion to have her motion dismissed and her child support and support payments increased.
The trial court granted the plaintiff’s application for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as the UK court retained and had exclusive jurisdiction over the spousal maintenance order. In particular, the lower court said that neither party had produced any evidence that the UK court had waived or released its exclusive jurisdiction to order spousal maintenance.
The appeal majority wrote that the trial court also wrongly dismissed the application because it was unclear whether the provisions of the UK order applied to the circumstances of the case, and said that even if provisions of the order did apply, the filing itself this was not detailed, the UK retained exclusive jurisdiction to amend the order.
The Court of Appeals also said the trial court did not invoke any specific provision to support its conclusion, and provided an explanation that should not have been considered. The lower court also found no UK authority making it clear that the UK could retain exclusive jurisdiction.
The trial court will now have jurisdiction to consider the defendant’s motion when it returns to the lower court, the majority wrote.
Judge Nina F. Elgo was the sole author of the dissenting opinion, writing that the trial court properly considered the reasoning and properly found its lack of jurisdiction.
Elgo wrote: “The explanation provides the necessary context for the making of this order and convinces me that the trial court was right in finding that it had no substantive jurisdiction over the Spousal Support Decree due to the UK’s continuing exclusive jurisdiction.”
Alexander J. Cuda represented the defendant. Thomas M. Shanley represented the plaintiff.
Neither party returned a request for comment.