Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford, Hartford
Frank Aleria, Jr.
Patience M. Aleria
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR CONTEMPT (#142)
Stewart Johnson, J.
This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion for contempt filed October 22, 2014. A hearing was held on March 23, 2015 and both parties were represented by counsel.
The parties' marriage was dissolved by way of judgment dated March 20, 2008. The plaintiff was to make certain monetary payments in exchange for the defendant's transferring title to the marital residence located at 259 Dennison Ridge Drive, Manchester, Connecticut. Plaintiff was to make a payment of $80, 000 with simple interest of 5% per year within 5 years of the date of judgment. This debt was secured by a recorded promissory note and mortgage.
According to the judgment, the plaintiff was to pay weekly alimony for 11 years in the amount of $925 per week. On January 28, 2009 the parties agreed to reduce the alimony to $625 per week for five (5) years. Whether the debt was satisfied by other land transfers and modifications not approved by the court regarding an outstanding alimony arrearage is the subject of the defendant's motion for contempt.
First, it is necessary to set forth the applicable law. In Johnson v. Johnson, 111 Conn.App. 413, 959 A.2d 637, the court concludes: " Contempt is a disobedience to the rules and orders of a court which has power to punish for such an offense . . . Contempt may be civil or criminal in character." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wilson v. Cohen, 222 Conn. 591, 596 n.5, 610 A.2d 1177 (1992). If the " underlying court order was sufficiently clear and unambiguous, we . . . determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in issuing . . . a judgment of contempt, which includes a review of the trial court's determination of whether the violation was willful or excused by a good faith dispute or misunderstanding." In re Leah S., 284 Conn. 685, 693-94, 935 A.2d 1021 (2007).
" Following a review of persuasive, indirect civil contempt case law, we ultimately conclude that, under Connecticut law, such proceedings should be proven by clear and convincing evidence." Brody v. Brody, 315 Conn.300, 318, 319, 105 A.3d 887 (2015).
Much of the hearing was dedicated to the value of the transferred real estate located at 648 Talcottville Road, Vernon, Connecticut. Two appraisers testified regarding the post-transfer value of the commercial property. Robert Morra testified on the defendant's behalf and Alan Budkofsky on behalf of the plaintiff. Both appraisers had to make their assessment retroactively as there is no appraisal for the time of transfer on March 12, 2013. Mr. Morra valued the property at $56, 000 due to lack of access, above grade location and cost of adding curb cuts. Mr. Budkofsky valued the property at $125, 000 based on comparable property but without consideration for curb cut or easement issues.
Neither party disputes that the plaintiff listed for sale the property in Vernon without success. The plaintiff claims he transferred the property to the defendant in satisfaction of all past and future alimony payments as he believed the value to be $175, 000. The defendant values the property at approximately $50, 000 and claims she accepted the property to assist the plaintiff with debt, taxes and to keep peace with her children. She also incurred immediate financial expenditure by paying back taxes on the property at the time of transfer.
The plaintiff obtained a release from the defendant against her mortgage on the marital home in Manchester on April 8, 2014. The sale of the house resulted in proceeds of the sale being held in escrow pending litigation including this matter. The $34, 758.81 is currently held in a non-interest bearing account.
Neither party disputes that a temporary modification to alimony agreement was executed by both parties reducing weekly alimony to $200 for the period of January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010. The dispute is the amount of alimony payable to the defendant after January 1, 2011. The agreement specifically states the court ordered weekly alimony of $625 shall be reinstated. The plaintiff's position is clear that he is in compliance with court orders by transferring the property in Vernon. He also asserts the defense of laches. In addition the plaintiff claims he believed the dissolution judgment held that alimony terminated upon marriage of the defendant and that he bartered services performed at the defendant's home.
On the issue of alimony, the defendant urges the court to determine the transferred property did not satisfy alimony, that alimony of $625 was reinstated in 2011 and that an arrearage exists in the amount of approximately $93, 125. The defendant, who did remarry, objects to early termination of alimony as it is not a condition stipulated in the dissolution contract.
In reaching its decision, the court has reviewed the post-trial memoranda of law submitted on May 1, 2015, the applicable case law, General Statues, court exhibits and the testimony of the parties. Valid court orders were entered on March 20, 2008 and January 28, 2009. The orders were clear and unambiguous in their direction to the plaintiff to pay a mortgage note with interest within five years and periodic alimony to the defendant. The parties' modified agreement of alimony for the year 2010 is valid. The court finds the defendant accepted services procured by the plaintiff in exchange for any alimony due prior to 2011. The court finds that a court ordered weekly alimony payment of $625 was reinstated as of January 1, 2011. This order terminated on January 4, 2014. No condition specifically terminating the alimony payment upon remarriage is incorporated in the original judgment in 2008. The modified agreement allows cohabitation for the defendant. The writings are clear and unambiguous.
The parties testified under oath before the court accepted the agreements and made them orders of the court. The court finds that the defendant's remarriage did not terminate the plaintiff's alimony obligation pursuant to court orders. The court finds that the defense of laches is not supported by the evidence. To prove laches, there must be an inexcusable delay that must have prejudiced the plaintiff. Credible evidence exists that the plaintiff and defendant continued to modify the alimony in various ways. The parties entered a court agreement in 2009, signed a contract in 2010, exchanged services in lieu of payment and transferred real estate in 2013. The plaintiff fails to establish any prejudice to him by the defendant's continuing participation in renegotiation. ...