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Valentine v. Valentine

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 5, 2016

NORA LYNNE VALENTINE
v.
JOEL ROBERT VALENTINE

Argued November 18, 2015

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Middlesex, Regional Family Trial Docket at Middletown, Pinkus, J.

John F. Morris, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Joel R. Valentine, self-represented, the appellee (defendant).

Keller, Mullins and Lavery, Js.

OPINION

KELLER, J.

The plaintiff, Nora Valentine, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered following proceedings that occurred in accordance with a remand order of this court, in which it entered financial orders in the parties’ dissolution action. The plaintiff claims that the trial court erred: (1) in fashioning its orders regarding the ownership, refinance, and sale of the marital home; (2) in basing its alimony and child support orders on gross, rather than net income; and (3) in retroactively modifying prior court orders for mortgage arrearages and fines for noncompliance with discovery by the defendant, Joel Valentine. We reverse the judgment of the trial court, in part, with respect to the plaintiff’s third claim relative to fines that possibly had accumulated for the defendant’s noncompliance with discovery. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The parties to this matter were married on July 8, 1990, in Malibu, California. They had two children during their marriage, born on December 21, 1995, and on May 3, 2003. The parties originally tried the issues before the court, Gould, J., and a judgment dissolving their marriage entered on May 20, 2013.[1] This court reversed Judge Gould’s judgment in 2014, and remanded this matter for a new trial on all financial issues. Valentine v. Valentine, 149 Conn.App. 799, 808, 90 A.3d 300 (2014).

On remand, the court, Pinkus, J., conducted a trial on all financial issues over the course of four days, beginning on September 9, 2014, and concluding on September 16, 2014. In its memorandum of decision of September 26, 2014, the court set forth the following findings of fact. ‘‘The parties resided in California from the time of the marriage until 2004. The plaintiff was a screen writer with limited success.[2] The defendant was a sound effects designer. In addition, the parties attempted to develop websites and online content. These ventures were not very profitable. The parties relied primarily on the defendant’s income. All of their earnings were either deposited into their joint accounts or a corporate account, to which they both had access.

‘‘The parties moved to Connecticut in 2004 and bought their current residence shortly thereafter. They paid $440, 000 for the house, which included at least two rental units. They used $100, 000 in savings and a $10, 000 gift from the plaintiff’s grandmother as a down payment. The balance was by way of a bank loan secured by a mortgage. The house is currently assessed at $330, 000, with an appraised value of $476, 000 by the Woodstock [tax] assessor. The current mortgage balance is listed as $330, 000 on the plaintiff’s financial affidavit. The mortgage is currently subject to a modification due to a delinquency. The plaintiff pays interest only for the next several years and has a balloon payment of $76, 000 due in 2035.

‘‘While living in Connecticut, the defendant continued to provide services as a sound effects designer and during periods without work utilized savings and an inheritance from his father to pay bills. The plaintiff pursued various ventures including unsuccessfully running for first selectman of Woodstock, editing online content, and speaking at conferences. Little if any income was derived from these sources. In 2011, the defendant obtained his current employment at Lane Construction Company. In 2013, he earned a gross [income] of $75, 135 from Lane Construction. He also worked briefly as a [limousine] driver. The plaintiff derives her income from the rental units and by boarding students from . . . Woodstock Academy. Although she has not filed income tax returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013, it appears that she can earn at least $30, 000 annually from these sources. In addition, she is applying for jobs and should be able to earn at least minimum wage for a thirty-five hour week for an additional $15, 000 annually.

‘‘The plaintiff accused the defendant of being abusive. The defendant accused the plaintiff of being unfaithful. There is no support for either of these allegations and the court does not find either party more responsible than the other in the breakdown of the marriage.

‘‘The plaintiff started this action on September 27, 2011. Immediately prior to the commencement of the action, the plaintiff removed at least $10, 000 from various accounts. The plaintiff also removed the china, silver, and her personal jewelry from the family home. The plaintiff returned to her mother a 1958 Corvette that had been in the [parties’] possession for a few years, without the defendant’s permission. The plaintiff also returned to her mother deeds to property that had not been recorded. The plaintiff removed items of furniture from storage and had them transported out of state without the defendant’s permission. The defendant removed the plaintiff’s name from some accounts, changed the beneficiary on his life insurance to his sister, and did not keep the bills current.’’ (Footnote added.)

The court issued new financial orders after indicating that it had considered the testimony and exhibits presented at trial, the statutory criteria pertaining to property division and awards of alimony and child support as expressed in General Statutes §§ 46b-81, 46b-82, and 46b-84, as well as other pertinent statutes, including the child support and arrearage guidelines regulations.

The court ordered the defendant to pay $300 per week in child support for the parties’ two children to the plaintiff, retroactive to May 20, 2013, in accordance with the child support guidelines. This amount was to be adjusted to $215 per week effective June 27, 2014, when the defendant was obligated to pay child support for only one child. The court found that the defendant had ‘‘an arrearage for pendente lite support in the amount of $928, which shall be paid at the rate of $10 per week.’’ The court also ordered that ‘‘[f]rom the date of judgment, the parties shall be equally responsible for the minor children’s extracurricular activities, provided that they are agreed to in advance by the parties in writing, which agreement shall not be unreasonably withheld . . . [but that n]either shall be responsible for more than $1250 per year [for such] expenses.’’ The court ordered that the defendant would ‘‘be responsible for the children’s health insurance, for so long as they are eligible, provided it is available to him through his employer at reasonable expense.’’ Further, the court ordered that ‘‘[u]nreimbursed medical and dental expenses for the minor children shall be paid 46 percent by the plaintiff and 54 percent by the defendant.’’ The court retained ‘‘jurisdiction for educational support of the party’s children pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-56c, ’’ but it did not enter a current order because there was no evidence that the requirements of § 46b-56c (d) and (e) had been met.

With respect to the marital home, the plaintiff was awarded all right, title and interest in that property. She was ordered to be solely responsible for the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and all other expenses related to the home. She also was ordered to ‘‘attempt to remove the defendant from any obligation due on the mortgage on at least an annual basis, and if not accomplished within eight years of the date of [the] judgment, [she would be ordered] to immediately place the property for sale.’’ Further, the court ordered that ‘‘[a]ny proceeds realized from [such a] sale shall belong to the plaintiff.’’

The defendant was ordered to pay $250 per week in alimony to the plaintiff, retroactive to May 20, 2013.[3]This alimony obligation is modifiable and will terminate only upon the death of either party, the remarriage of the plaintiff, or, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-86 (b), cohabitation by the plaintiff. The defendant also was ordered to ‘‘maintain whatever life insurance he [had] available through his employer, naming the plaintiff as beneficiary, so long as he [had] an alimony or child support obligation to her.’’

The court allowed the plaintiff to ‘‘retain any interests she may have to real property transferred to her by her mother’’ and her interest in a pending personal injury claim. She also was allowed to retain two of the parties’ three cars, as well as ‘‘any interest she has in the 1958 Corvette.’’

The defendant was allowed to retain his retirement account and one of the parties’ three cars, a Ford Focus. The parties were allowed to retain their respective bank accounts, intellectual property, and personal belongings in their possession without any claim by the other. Each party was ordered to be responsible for debts listed on their respective financial affidavits and their own attorneys’ fees. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

We first note the relevant and well settled standard of review in domestic relations cases. ‘‘An appellate court will not disturb a trial court’s orders in domestic relations cases unless the court has abused its discretion or it is found that it could not reasonably conclude as it did, based on the facts presented. . . . The trial court’s findings are binding upon this court unless they are clearly erroneous in light of the evidence and the pleadings in the record as a whole. . . . [T]o conclude that the trial court abused its discretion, we must find that the court either incorrectly applied the law or could not reasonably conclude as it did.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Keenan v. Casillo, 149 Conn.App. 642, 644–45, 89 A.3d 912, cert. denied, 312 Conn. 910, 93 A.3d 594 (2014). ‘‘In determining whether a trial court has abused its broad discretion in domestic relations matters, we allow every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its action.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Von Kohorn v. Von Kohorn, 132 Conn.App. 709, 713, 33 A.3d 809 (2011). ‘‘A finding of fact is clearly erroneous when there is no evidence in the record to support it . . . or when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Tracey v. Tracey, 97 Conn.App. 122, 125, 902 A.2d 729 (2006).

‘‘In reviewing the trial court’s decision under [an abuse of discretion] standard, we are cognizant that [t]he issues involving financial orders are entirely interwoven. The rendering of judgment in a complicated dissolution case is a carefully crafted mosaic, each element of which may be dependent on the other.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Kunajukr ...


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