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Ceddia v. Ceddia

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 5, 2016


Argued November 17, 2015

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New London at Norwich, Hon. Joseph J. Purtill, judge trial referee [dissolution judgment]; Carbonneau, J.[motions to modify].

Lloyd L. Langhammer, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Jonathan T. Lane, for the appellee (defendant).

Lavine, Sheldon and Flynn, Js.



Before this court is the appeal by the plaintiff, Jean Ceddia, from the judgment of the trial court modifying an award of periodic alimony. The court granted a motion by the defendant, Thomas Ceddia, for a downward modification of the alimony award decreasing the amount from $1700 per week ordered in the dissolution decree to $700 per week. The plaintiff claims that the court erred in reducing the alimony award. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following procedural history and factual findings of the court are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff filed a dissolution action to end her marriage to the defendant on September 15, 2010. The parties’ marriage lasted approximately twenty-five years. The defendant participated in extramarital affairs in 1999 and 2010, which caused the plaintiff to suffer both mentally and physically. Therefore, he was found to be more at fault for the breakdown of the marriage than the plaintiff. After a settlement was reached resulting in the marital dissolution agreement, the judgment awarded the plaintiff two streams of alimony: $1700 per week for twelve years and $400 per month for three years to apply to her health insurance expenses. This original dissolution judgment made the former nonmodifiable as to its twelve year duration, but not as to amount.

Thereafter, in September and November, 2013, respectively, both the defendant and the plaintiff filed motions to modify the $1700 per week alimony award in which they each alleged substantially changed circumstances. The defendant sought a downward modification, which was granted. The plaintiff sought an upward adjustment, which was denied, but has not been appealed from. The defendant also moved to lower his life insurance obligation to the plaintiff and to make equal their contributions to an educational support order, both of which requests were denied and are not at issue in this appeal.

The trial court found that the plaintiff was in good health at the time of the modification hearing. She is an attorney who had been making $55, 000 per year at the time of the dissolution, but she left her position with an area law firm and did not seek employment with another firm. Instead, the plaintiff decided to open her own practice, and at the time of the modification hearing she was not realizing income. Nonetheless, given her twenty-eight years of experience as an attorney, twelve spent practicing in Connecticut, combined with her vocational skills, she was found to have an earning capacity of $75, 000 per year. The plaintiff derives a weekly interest income of $640 from her assets. The plaintiff’s weekly expenses of $3200 were found to have been nearly twice as great as her net weekly income at the time of the modification. The court also found that the plaintiff’s aggregate estate was worth more than $2 million.

The defendant was found to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. He is an emergency room physician with a base salary of $275, 000 per year, which the court found to be an increase of $80, 000 per year more than he had earned at the time of dissolution of the marriage. This increase in the defendant’s income was the plaintiff’s basis for requesting an upward modification of the alimony award, and it was found by the court to be a substantial change. The court also found the defendant’s total net worth to be about $628, 000, approximately one-third of the plaintiff’s net worth.

The defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s circumstances had also changed from the date of dissolution, because a trust, known as the Robert F. Hendren trust (trust), of which she was a contingent beneficiary, that she had valued on her financial affidavit at the time of dissolution at $1 million was now vested and worth an additional $500, 000. In its memorandum of decision, the court found that the plaintiff’s financial affidavit executed at the time of the hearing on the dissolution valued her interest in the trust at $1 million. Her financial affidavit, executed on the date of the May 13, 2014 modification hearing, indicated that after the death of her father she received what was formerly a contingent interest in the trust, and it was then worth $1.5 million. The court found that increase to be a substantial change.

After finding substantial changes in the financial circumstances of both parties, the court analyzed their individual circumstances and subsequently reduced the alimony award down to $700 per week from the original $1700 weekly. The plaintiff has appealed from the judgment awarding the defendant that modification.

In this appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in reducing her alimony for essentially three reasons. The plaintiff first argues that the defendant had waived any claim to the trust asset, which should bar him from using a claimed increase in its value as the basis to move to modify his alimony obligations downward. Second, the plaintiff argues that she was awarded the complete interest in the trust by the terms of the dissolution judgment. She further contends that any increase in value of this asset between the time of dissolution and the time of the hearing on the motion for modification ‘‘was simply a conversion of an asset and should not have been considered income or an asset for purposes of assessing whether there had been a substantial change of circumstances.’’ She also maintains that case law permits a modification based on changed circumstances if there is a dramatic increase in the income of one of the parties but that an increase in the value of an asset ordinarily will not. Finally, her last argument on appeal is that there is error in the court’s finding that the valuation of the trust at the time of the modification hearing at $1.5 million was a substantial change of circumstances. She makes this argument because although the financial affidavit filed at the time of the dissolution judgment valued the trust at $1 million, the actual marital dissolution agreement that was made part of the dissolution judgment provided, in relevant part, that the trust that she was to retain may have a value of ...

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