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Reinke v. Sing

Appellate Court of Connecticut

February 2, 2016

GAIL REINKE
v.
WALTER SING

         Argued April 9, 2015

          Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk and tried to the court, Hon. Dennis F. Harrigan, judge trial referee; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief in accordance with the parties' stipulation; thereafter, the court, Shay, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to open the judgment and issued certain orders; subsequently, the court, Shay, J., issued a corrected memorandum of decision, and the plaintiff appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Shay, J., issued an articulation of its decision.

          Reversed; judgment directed.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff, whose marriage to the defendant previously had been dissolved, appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court opening the dissolution judgment and issuing certain financial orders. The trial court had rendered the dissolution judgment in 2007. In 2010, the plaintiff filed a motion to open the dissolution judgment, alleging that the defendant intentionally had failed to disclose certain assets on his financial affidavit filed at the time of the dissolution. The trial court opened the judgment by oral agreement of both parties, without a finding of fraud, in order to reassess the financial orders. After a trial, the court rendered judgment reissuing the financial orders from the dissolution judgment, including altering the amount and term of alimony, altering the amount that the defendant owed to the plaintiff with respect to various marital assets, and awarding the plaintiff attorney's fees. Subsequently, after an order from this court, the trial court articulated that it had made no finding regarding fraud at the time it opened the dissolution judgment and, after hearing the evidence, found that the plaintiff had failed to prove fraud by clear and convincing evidence. Both parties then submitted supplemental briefs on the question of whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to open the dissolution judgment for the purpose of, inter alia, redistributing the martial property. Held that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to open the dissolution judgment and reissue the financial orders absent a finding or concession of fraud; despite the agreement of the parties, the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to open the dissolution judgment three years after it was rendered and reallocate the parties' martial assets.

         Eric M. Higgins, for the appellant (plaintiff).

         Reine C. Boyer, for the appellee (defendant).

         Beach, Keller and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          [162 Conn.App. 675] PER CURIAM.

          The plaintiff, Gail Reinke, appeals from the judgment of dissolution of her marriage to the defendant, Walter Sing, rendered after the granting of a motion to open a prior judgment of dissolution. The plaintiff argues that the trial court erred (1) as to the award of alimony, by decreasing the term, ordering the term to be nonmodifiable and increasing the alimony award by an inequitably small amount; (2) as to the property distribution, by inequitably dividing assets previously concealed by the defendant; and (3) as to attorney's fees, by not awarding the plaintiff legal fees for the fourteen month period encompassing the trial. We conclude that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the motion to open, and therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The parties were married in 1989 and had two children.[1] The plaintiff held a bachelor's degree, and previously had been employed in a number of well paying jobs. During the marriage she became a homemaker; she also worked part-time " from time to time." The defendant held a degree in mathematics and he worked throughout the marriage, most recently as a self-employed consultant.

          [162 Conn.App. 676] The marriage was dissolved by the trial court, Hon. Dennis F. Harrigan, judge trial referee, on October 2, 2007. The parties entered into a " Stipulation for Judgment," which was incorporated into the judgment of dissolution. On May 3, 2010, the plaintiff filed a motion to open the judgment of dissolution on the basis of fraud, claiming that the defendant failed to disclose some of his assets on the financial affidavit relied upon at the time of the dissolution. On September 28, 2010, the trial court, Shay, J., opened the judgment " by oral agreement of both parties, without a finding of fraud," in order to reassess the financial orders.

         Following a trial, the court issued its decision on August 23, 2013. The court found that the defendant's income actually had been twice the amount that the defendant disclosed at the time of the original dissolution, and the lesser amount had been relied on in formulating the terms of the initial stipulation and judgment. The court also found that the defendant had underreported the values of his investment accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, and anticipated tax refund; he also underreported the value of the plaintiff's share of a condominium in New Jersey. The court, therefore, ordered the amount and term of the alimony altered, the amounts the defendant owed to the plaintiff with respect to various marital assets and retirement accounts altered, and awarded the plaintiff attorney's fees. On September 27, 2013, the court issued a correction to its memorandum of decision; the correction fixed a calculation error but the court declined to amend its prior award of attorney's fees. This appeal followed.

         Our review of the file reveals that the defendant did not contest the plaintiff's motion to open. The court did not make a finding of fraud, but opened the judgment nonetheless based on the agreement of the parties. Neither party has ...


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