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Studer v. Studer

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 23, 2016

BEVERLY STUDER
v.
JOHN CARL STUDER

         Argued November 13, 2015

Page 241

          Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Circuit Court in the Nineteenth Judicial District of Martin County, Florida; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief; thereafter, the defendant filed a certified copy of the judgment of dissolution in the judicial district of Fairfield pursuant to statute; subsequently, the court, Pinkus, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to modify child support, and the defendant appealed.

          Affirmed.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff, whose marriage to the defendant was dissolved in Florida, filed a motion to indefinitely extend the defendant's post-majority child support payments for the benefit of their autistic child, C, in accordance with Florida law. After the judgment of dissolution was rendered, the parties and C moved to Connecticut. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to extend the defendant's postmajority child support until C's high school graduation. The trial court granted that motion and, shortly before C's graduation, the plaintiff filed the motion to extend the defendant's postmajority child support obligations indefinitely. The trial court concluded that, pursuant to the statute (§ 46b-71 [b]) governing choice of law in proceedings pertaining to foreign matrimonial judgments, Florida law controlled the duration of the defendant's child support obligation and, accordingly, ordered the defendant to pay child support indefinitely. On the defendant's subsequent appeal, held that the defendant could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly extended his child support obligation indefinitely, this court having concluded that because Florida was the first state to enter a child support order in this case, Florida law governed the duration of the defendant's obligation; the plain language of the statute (§ 46b-213q [d]) governing choice of law in proceedings pertaining to the modification of a child support order entered in another state vests the first state to issue a child support order with control over the duration of the child support obligation, notwithstanding subsequent modifications by tribunals of another state, and expressly prohibited the application of Connecticut law in determining the duration of the defendant's child support obligation here.

         Jeffrey D. Ginzberg, for the appellant (defendant).

         Alexander H. Schwartz, for the appellee (plaintiff).

         Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

Page 242

         [320 Conn. 484] EVELEIGH, J.

         The sole issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly concluded that the duration of a child support order was governed by the law of the state in which it was originally issued. The defendant, John Carl Studer, appeals from the judgment of the trial court modifying the duration of his child support obligation and ordering that he pay child support indefinitely to the plaintiff, Beverly Studer, for the benefit of their autistic child[1] in accordance with Florida law.[2] On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court

Page 243

improperly applied Florida law in determining the duration of his child support obligation. We disagree with the defendant's claim and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The parties' marriage was dissolved in Florida in 2002. The amended final judgment of dissolution of marriage (Florida judgment) provided that the defendant would pay child support until the child " reaches the age of [eighteen], become[s] emancipated, marries, dies, or otherwise becomes self-supporting" or " until [the] age [of nineteen] or graduation from high school whichever [320 Conn. 485] occurs first, if a child reaches the age of [eighteen] and is still in high school and reasonably expected to graduate prior to the age of [nineteen]." Both parties were aware that the child was autistic at the time of the dissolution and the Florida judgment specifically referenced the child's condition.

         After the Florida judgment was rendered, the parties and the child moved to Connecticut.[3] In 2003, the defendant filed a certified copy of the Florida judgment in Connecticut Superior Court and moved to modify the amount of his child support and alimony obligations. The court granted the defendant's motion to modify and reduced the amount of child support and alimony the defendant was required to pay.[4]

         In 2010, the plaintiff filed a postjudgment motion for postmajority support for the child. The plaintiff claimed that, as a result of the child's autism, she would not graduate from high school until after her twenty-first birthday. Consequently, the plaintiff claimed that the child was entitled to support beyond her eighteenth birthday under Florida law. Applying Florida law, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for postmajority support and ordered the defendant to continue paying child support until the child's high school graduation (2010 support order). The court further found that there was an arrearage in support payments owed to the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to pay that sum as well.

         Before the child's graduation from high school in June, 2013, the plaintiff filed a second motion for postmajority support seeking to extend the defendant's [320 Conn. 486] child support obligation indefinitely beyond the child's high school graduation. The trial court concluded that under General Statutes § 46b-71 (b),[5] Florida law controlled the duration of the defendant's child support obligation and ordered the defendant to pay child support indefinitely. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly concluded that Florida law, rather than Connecticut law, governed the duration of his child support obligation. In support of his claim, the defendant asserts that the Florida judgment had been filed in Connecticut and that the amount of child support specified in the Florida judgment had been previously modified by a Connecticut

Page 244

court. The defendant also asserts that, because Connecticut law would not have allowed postmajority support in this case,[6] the trial court improperly extended the defendant's child support obligation beyond the terms of the 2010 support order, which provided that child support would terminate upon the child's graduation from high school. In response, the plaintiff contends that Florida law governs the duration of the defendant's child support obligation because the initial child support order in the present case was issued in Florida. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court, albeit on different grounds.

         This appeal requires that we examine the provisions of our Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (act), [320 Conn. 487] General Statutes (Rev. to 2013) § 46b-212 et seq.[7] and the uniform version of that act (uniform act) as promulgated in our sister states. See Uniform Interstate Family Support Act of 2001, 9 U.L.A. (Pt. IB) 159 (2005). The uniform act, " which has been adopted by all states, including Connecticut, governs the procedures for establishing, enforcing and modifying child and spousal support, or alimony, orders, as well as for determining parentage when more than one state is involved in such proceedings." (Footnote omitted.) Hornblower v. Hornbl ...


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