Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk, Stamford
CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Erika M. Tindill, J.
This dissolution of marriage action was returnable on January 28, 2014. Both parties are represented by counsel. The trial took place on March 26, April 22, April 23, with closing arguments on April 24, 2015. The parties introduced several exhibits and both parties testified. Two expert witnesses--a certified financial planner and a mortgage broker--were called by the Plaintiff. Prior to the commencement of evidence, the parties stipulated to a final custody and parenting agreement with the assistance of the guardian ad litem; this stipulation was approved and made an order of the Court. It is the parties' intention that the agreement be incorporated into the Court's judgment in this matter. Between the conclusion of the trial on the financial matters in dispute and this Court's decision, the Plaintiff brought a motion for contempt (#145) alleging violation of the Court's (J. Cohn) June 9, 2014 pendente lite order requiring the Defendant to deposit " all of his net income from his employer into the parties' joint checking account immediately upon receipt of such income."  An evidentiary hearing on that motion was held on July 27, 2015;  the Court's ruling on contempt is incorporated into this decision.
The Court has considered the testimony and evidence, reviewed and considered relevant case law and statutory provisions, and has taken into account the argument of counsel to make its orders and findings.
Basic Jurisdictional Facts
The parties were married on November 7, 1993 in California. The parties have three children: Evan Michael Rico, born May 9, 1998, Sophia Elise Rico, born June 7, 2000, and Madeline Patrice Rico, born, June 28, 2004. The Court has jurisdiction. The allegations of the complaint are found to be proven and true. The plaintiff has resided in the state of Connecticut for at least one year prior to filing this action. The marriage of the parties has broken down irretrievably. Neither party nor the minor children have been the recipient of state or municipal assistance.
The plaintiff wife is 46 years old, college-educated and in excellent health. She was an audiologist with a master's degree earning an annual salary of $32, 000 at the time of her marriage to the Defendant. The parties were living and working in California. The Plaintiff worked full-time in her field until the birth of the parties' first child; in 1998, her work hours dropped to 32 hours per week. The parties had a nanny and the assistance of the Plaintiff's aunt for childcare until their second child was born. The Plaintiff then decreased her work hours to 24 per week. Due to changes in the field of audiology, the parties decided that the Plaintiff should get a clinical doctorate degree to remain competitive even though it would not result in an increase in the Plaintiff's income. This additional advanced degree took approximately 18 months to complete at a cost of $12, 555. The Plaintiff was required to participate in distance learning which consisted of online classes in the evening and a weekend class once a month. She attained her doctorate (Au.D) on March 3, 2003.
Eight to nine months after the attainment of the Plaintiff's clinical doctorate degree, the Defendant wanted to take advantage of an opportunity at his job with UPS and relocate to El Paso, Texas. The parties made a joint decision that the Plaintiff would be a stay-at-home mother while the children were in school. The Court notes that this decision was made in spite of the fact that they had just invested in the Plaintiff's career advancement. The Plaintiff testified that she was scared and reticent to leave her family in California, but agreed to the move. The Plaintiff and the two children moved in January 2004; the Plaintiff was approximately 5 months pregnant with the parties' third child. The Defendant had moved to El Paso three months earlier. In Texas, the Plaintiff worked for 5-6 months as a telephone consultant/customer service representative for Newport Audiology Centers. She did this work for 5-8 hours per week earning $30.00 per hour. This work was not practicing audiology, the field in which she was educated and trained, but doing customer service (answering questions for customers who had purchased hearing aids, for example) for a company associated with hearing care professionals. The parties lived in El Paso for eleven months.
In November 2004, the parties moved to Cincinnati, Ohio--again for the Defendant's job. The Defendant moved three months before the Plaintiff and their (now) three children. The Plaintiff continued to work as a customer service representative. She was able to work more hours. However, 15 hours per week was the maximum she worked outside of the home as she was still the primary caretaker of the household and the children. The parties resided in Ohio for five and a half years.
In 2010, the Plaintiff agreed once again to move, this time to the Northeast, due to a position in New York City having been offered to the Defendant within his company. She testified that she did not look forward to this move but " embraced it as best she could." (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015.) The Plaintiff and the three children moved to Connecticut into the marital home after the Defendant's move five months prior. The Plaintiff was still at home with the children and still consulting upon the move to Connecticut. Her work hours gradually decreased over a year to eighteen-month period. The company for which she worked merged with another company; the new company hired more experienced consultants/customer service representatives so eventually the hours available to the Plaintiff " dried up." (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015.)
In August 2011, the Plaintiff found work as a personal trainer and CrossFit coach. She has become passionate about this line of work, having built a client base and established connections with gym owners. She testified that her intention is to increase her current part-time hours to full time and to establish her own CrossFit/training business. She currently works an average of 13-15 hours per week earning between $35 and $98 per hour. The Plaintiff testified that she doesn't work more hours because she has to work around her clients' and her children's schedules. The children are in the 11th, 9th and 5th grades; the youngest child is mature enough to be alone for up to an hour until the Plaintiff arrives home from her last client session. It is undisputed that the Plaintiff has been the primary caretaker of the children (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015; Defendant's testimony--April 23, 2015.) Further, the parties' March 26, 2015 custody and parenting plan grants the Plaintiff primary physical custody. For at least the next four to five years, it is not unreasonable for the Plaintiff to adjust her work schedule to meet the needs of the parties' children, particularly the youngest child, including being close enough to home and their two schools and having some flexibility. The Plaintiff testified that she needs time to grow her training business and build clientele. The Plaintiff insists that, despite her clinical doctorate, she could not go back to a career in audiology. When the parties relocated five years ago, the Plaintiff researched what steps she needed to take in order to become a licensed audiologist in Connecticut. She had none of the licensure, certifications, and continuing education required by the Department of Public Health. The Plaintiff testified that it was a joint decision that she would not pursue her former career in Connecticut and the Defendant never asked her to work more hours outside of the home to contribute (financially) to the household income, even though there was a considerable increase in the cost of living compared to Ohio. (Plaintiff's testimony--April 22, 2015.)
The defendant husband is 48 years old, also college-educated and in excellent health. He is currently a Controller for United Parcel Service's (UPS) North Atlantic District. The Defendant works in the New York City office. As a Controller, he reports directly to the North Atlantic President for UPS' East region. The Defendant is charged with monitoring the company's financial responsibility which requires governance of the 140-150 people who report to him, including finance managers and supervisors. The Defendant has, quite impressively, moved up through the ranks of UPS in the 28 years he has worked for the company. It is undisputed that he has worked extremely hard to build an exceptionally successful and lucrative career in upper management. The year 2014 was his best yet; it is apparent (and the evidence corroborates) that he will continue earn pay increases, build his substantial pension and stock options, and earn annual bonuses.  The Defendant began working part-time for UPS while earning his bachelor's degree in accounting from California State University-Fullerton loading and unloading trailers earning $7, 000 per year. After his graduation in 1991, the Defendant was hired full-time as an accounting supervisor earning an annual salary of $28, 000.
The Defendant, who was born in Los Angeles, met the Plaintiff, who is also from California, in a club while in college. At the time of his marriage to the Plaintiff, the Defendant was working as an accounting supervisor for UPS. In 1998, the year the parties' first child was born, the Defendant was promoted to Finance Manager, an executive level position in which he was responsible for auditing, compliance, and purchasing. His annual salary increased several tens of thousands of dollars to approximately $75, 000. The parties had purchased a home prior to their son's birth. The Defendant testified that he and the Plaintiff enjoyed " an active, southern California lifestyle" that included spending time with their families and friends, travel and outdoor activities. (Defendant's testimony--April 23, 2015.)
In order for the Defendant to advance in his career with UPS, relocation was a requirement. The Defendant testified that " he explained that moving was a condition of promotion in most cases" to his wife and that it took " a long time for her to agree to that" but that the Plaintiff finally did. Furthermore, the Defendant asserts that the parties also discussed and agreed that the Plaintiff would work part-time when the children were of school age " to contribute to the family."  (Defendant's testimony--April 23, 2015.) By 2003, UPS had relocated and promoted the Defendant; the Defendant moved his family to Texas. The transition took six months during which the company would fly the Defendant home, and pay for the cost of moving, selling their home, and house-hunting in their new location in El Paso.
It was just under a year before the Defendant was again relocated, this time to a non-traditional division of the company as a Finance Manager. At one point, over 200 UPS employees reported to the Defendant. The Defendant's income increased again; he received an 8% raise to take his new position in Ohio. He testified that his compensation is in the form of a base salary plus a bonus which is paid in several different ways. The bonus portion is a Manager Incentive Plan (MIP) which is dependent upon the results of the company, not the individual manager. The amount awarded is a decision made by the UPS Board of Directors as to what percentage bonus the Defendant will receive based on his level of responsibility. The Defendant's bonus under the MIP is currently 60% of his base salary--two-thirds of that is in restricted stock units which vest over five years and one-third of his bonus is an electable portion which he can put in a 401k, buy stock, or get cash. The Court finds that the Defendant's base salary at the time of trial was $12, 435 per month ($149, 220 per year). In addition, the Defendant has received (except in 2013) an annual 2% step increase which also increases his 60% baseline salary.
After five years in management in Ohio, UPS presented the Defendant with options: relocate to the Northeast, relocate elsewhere with less responsibility for less money, be demoted, or lose his job: Other than moving his family (which by that time had grown to three children) to the Northeast, the likelihood of the remaining options was unknown. The Defendant told his boss that he needed to think about the move; he discussed his career options with the Plaintiff. (Defendant's testimony--April 23, 2015.) The Defendant testified that the Plaintiff was supportive of his UPS career and the parties spoke openly about both of their employment options. He believed that the Plaintiff's advanced degree in audiology gave the parties more options. The parties even discussed the possibility of the Defendant having to be a stay-at-home father. In the end, the decision was made to make the move to the Northeast. The parties considered residing in New Jersey but ultimately settled on Weston, Connecticut on the advice of a friend of the Plaintiffs, who sold the Plaintiff on Fairfield County.
From the Plaintiff's perspective, the breakdown of her nearly 21-year marriage to the Defendant did not happen overnight. The beginning of the end was when the parties resided in Ohio. The Defendant went to work early, came home late, and went " straight to the basement" to work on his hobby of restoring straight-edge razors when he got home. She testified that he became increasingly bossy when at home and was easily angered. (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015.) By way of example, the Plaintiff explained an incident that occurred in the summer of 2009. The Defendant became very angry over something the Plaintiff had said about the coffee maker while the family was eating on the patio; he threw his dinner plate into the woods and stormed off, startling the Plaintiff and the children. After this episode, he moved into the guest bedroom, including moving his suits into the closet, turned down all of the pictures of the Plaintiff in the room, and refused to speak to the Plaintiff for a week. Soon after, he told the Plaintiff that he had activated a " family locator" service that tracked the Plaintiff's movements through her cell phone. When he was speaking to the Plaintiff, she experienced their communication as verbally abusive and emotionally distant; the Defendant wouldn't look at her when she spoke. The Plaintiff frequently felt like the Defendant treated her like one of his employees and asked him not to. He barked at her and the children and often ignored her. While the parties were living in Cincinnati, the Plaintiff sought individual counseling, suggested marital counseling for the parties, and got the family to attend church together. The Defendant refused to go counseling; he told the Plaintiff he would " read a book." (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015.) The Plaintiff felt professional intervention was needed to address what she perceived to be the couple's issues.
Things did not improve from the Plaintiff's perspective when the parties made the move to Connecticut. She testified that the Defendant exhibited the same behavior; the Plaintiff felt ignored and the parties continued to grow apart. The Defendant worked " tremendously long hours" at the New York office of UPS in midtown Manhattan; he commuted by train, leaving home at 5:30 a.m. and returning home between 6:30 and 7:50 p.m. During 2013, the Defendant became " extremely interested" in CrossFit. He still came home from work and most often went " straight to the basement after to work on his straight razors" where he would stay until after the parties' youngest child went to bed. (Plaintiff's testimony--March 26, 2015.) He would occasionally join the family for dinner; normally on Saturdays and Sundays. For the Plaintiff, the Defendant spent little time with the family. He wasn't able to attend most of the children's activities. He didn't like the fact that the Plaintiff was a CrossFit coach and resented her for being a stay-at-home mom. The Plaintiff felt isolated and alone.
The Plaintiff's breaking point came the summer of 2013. In July the parties flew separately to California to visit family. The Plaintiff's sister informed her that their father had been diagnosed with leukemia when she picked her and the children up from the airport. The catalyst for the filing of this dissolution action was her father's illness and the love she observed anew between her parents. The Plaintiff realized watching them during that vacation that she wanted (but was not in) a marriage like theirs. She told the Defendant in September 2013. She testified that the Defendant was picking a fight with her and she was tired of apologizing and always being the one to give in to " make nice." ...