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Watson v. Watson

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 23, 1990

Loretta B. WATSON
David P. WATSON.

Argued Nov. 8, 1989.

Bruce Beck, Manchester, with whom, on the brief, were Philip P. Apter and James M. Vaughan, East Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Linda Mariani, New London, with whom, on the brief, were Ellen S. Giannini, Oakville, and Carolyn Brotherton, New London, for appellee (defendant).


Page 1045

[20 Conn.App. 552] NORCOTT, Judge.

The plaintiff wife appeals from the judgment of the state trial referee acting as the trial court in a contested dissolution action. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial referee erred (1) in failing to award permanent periodic alimony, (2) in admitting certain nonexpert testimony as to land values, (3) in allowing the defendant to introduce previously undisclosed evidence, (4) in failing to assign to her the marital residence or any of the defendant's other interests in land or a monetary equivalent, and (5) in sustaining the defendant's objection to her motion to reargue. We find error in part.

[20 Conn.App. 553] At the time of the trial, the defendant husband was working at his father's farm, earning approximately $362 per week. He also received milk and meat free of charge from the farm. The plaintiff was a housewife, and was employed by several individuals to clean their houses, earning approximately $157 per week. The trial court dissolved the parties' seventeen year marriage, finding that it had broken down irretrievably. The plaintiff alleged physical abuse and a lack of communication. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff had become involved in another relationship, but the court found no probative evidence to support the third party relationship. The court awarded custody of the parties' minor daughters to the plaintiff and liberal visitation rights to the defendant. The court also ordered the defendant to pay $50 per week for each of two minor children, and $65 per week for the younger daughter when the older daughter reaches the age of eighteen. No award was ordered for a third child, who is handicapped, because the state of Connecticut provides for her care.

The court further ordered the defendant to pay periodic, nonmodifiable alimony in the amount of $35 per week, terminable at the end of three years. Finally, the court awarded the plaintiff exclusive use of the marital house until July 13, 1991, when the younger daughter reaches eighteen years of age. At that time, the defendant is to have possession and is to pay to the plaintiff a two stage lump sum property settlement of $80,000. [1] The court made no award to the plaintiff with respect to the defendant's other real property interests.

The plaintiff first claims that the trial court erred in awarding limited, nonmodifiable alimony. Our standard [20 Conn.App. 554] of review in domestic relations cases is clear. We will not reverse a trial court's rulings regarding financial orders unless the court incorrectly applied the law or could not reasonably have concluded as it did. Timm v. Timm, 195 Conn. 202, 210, 487 A.2d 191 (1985); O'Neill v. O'Neill, 13 Conn.App. 300, 302, 536 A.2d 978, cert. denied, 207 Conn. 806, 540 A.2d 374 (1988). " 'A fundamental principle in dissolution actions is that a trial court may exercise broad discretion in awarding alimony and dividing property as long as it considers all relevant statutory criteria. Carpenter v. Carpenter, 188 Conn. 736, 740-41, 453 A.2d 1151 (1982); Carter v. Carter, 8 Conn.App. 356, 358, 512 A.2d 979 (1986).' " O'Neill v. O'Neill, supra, 13 Conn.App. at 306, 536 A.2d 978 quoting Debowsky v. Debowsky, 12 Conn.App. 525, 526, 532 A.2d 591 (1987). No single criterion is preferred over others, and the trial court has broad discretion in varying the weight placed on each criterion under the circumstances of each case. Carpenter v. Carpenter, supra.

Notwithstanding the great latitude accorded to the trial court in awarding alimony and assigning property, the plaintiff argues that the trial court could not reasonably have concluded as it did with respect to the alimony award. After a careful review of the entire record Before us, we agree with the plaintiff and find error.

In its memorandum of decision, the court found the following facts. The plaintiff had been employed as a teacher in Rhode Island prior to her marriage, ceased teaching when she became pregnant with her first child, seventeen years ago, and has not taught since that time. She is not licensed to teach in Connecticut and has been earning approximately $157 per week cleaning houses. The court further found

Page 1046

that the plaintiff "has many physical problems with her knees, especially from arthritis," that she had undergone knee replacement[20 Conn.App. 555] surgery on one knee in the past and that she would require replacement of the other "in the not too distant future."

The court rejected the plaintiff's claim for lump sum and periodic alimony and instead awarded her nonmodifiable alimony of $35 per week for three years. After finding that the defendant is a fractional owner of four pieces of property, two comprising approximately one-half acre and two in which his fractional interest totals 208 acres and 123 acres, the court awarded no interest in those parcels to the plaintiff. The court also found that the defendant fraudulently conveyed the family residence to his children in order to remove the property from the marital assets, and yet it awarded the plaintiff exclusive use of that residence for a maximum term of three years during which time she is to be responsible for the payments of fuel and utilities, and with full rights to possession reverting to the defendant thereafter. The court further ordered that the plaintiff pay 20 percent of the children's private school tuition during the year of the order, and 50 percent thereafter.

In determining the alimony to be awarded, the trial court has broad discretion, but it must consider all of the statutory criteria enumerated in General Statutes § 46b-82, "including length of the marriage, the causes for the dissolution of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of the parties." O'Neill v. O'Neill, supra, 13 Conn.App. at 312-13, 536 A.2d 978; see Carpenter v. Carpenter, supra, 188 Conn. at 742, 453 A.2d 1151. There must be some indication in the record as to the basis of the trial court's determination of the award. Markarian v. Markarian, 2 Conn.App. 14, 16, 475 A.2d 337 (1984). "At a minimum, the record should indicate that the trial court considered relevant statutory factors in making an alimony award containing an automatic termination date." Id.

[20 Conn.App. 556] Although the trial court stated in its memorandum of decision that it had "carefully considered the criteria of the alimony statute" and applied them to the case Before it, we find that this award of alimony is logically inconsistent with the court's findings of fact. See O'Neill v. O'Neill, supra, 13 Conn.App. at 313, 536 A.2d 978. The court found that the plaintiff was earning $157 per week cleaning houses, and that she had many physical problems with her knees, including arthritis. It also acknowledged that she would most likely need to undergo a second knee replacement and, by these findings, implicitly found that she had a permanent disability. The court further found that although the plaintiff had been a teacher in Rhode Island, she has not taught in seventeen years and is not licensed to teach in Connecticut. We fail to see the logic behind the trial court's award of alimony in light of these findings regarding the length of the marriage, the plaintiff's physical disability and the facts relating to her employability. These findings do not support the court's award of time limited alimony. [ ...

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