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Chang v. Chang

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 21, 2017

MELISSA CHANG
v.
DAVID CHANG

          Argued December 6, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Pinkus, J.

          Kenneth J. Bartschi, with whom was Karen L. Dowd, for the appellant (defendant).

          Gary I. Cohen, with whom, on the brief, was Yakov Pyetranker, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Alvord, Keller and Gruendel, Js.

          ALVORD, J.

         The defendant, David Chang, appeals from the financial orders entered in connection with the judgment rendered by the trial court dissolving his marriage to the plaintiff, Melissa Chang. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly (1) determined that the premarital agreement between the parties was unenforceable because his disclosure of certain assets was inadequate, and (2) concluded that it could award alimony and divide certain solely owned assets even if the premarital agreement was enforceable. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the defendant's appeal. The court dissolved the parties' eleven year marriage on June 15, 2015. At the time of the dissolution, the parties had two minor children, ages ten and five. Following a seven day trial, the court made the following findings in its memorandum of decision: (1) neither party was more responsible for the breakdown of the marriage; (2) the parties signed a premarital agreement approximately ten days prior to their marriage; (3) the plaintiff, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, was earning approximately $50, 000 a year at the time their first child was born; (4) the plaintiff stopped working altogether after their second child was born with a neuromuscular disorder; (5) the defendant has a masters degree in computer science and is employed as a trader and portfolio manager; and (6) the defendant earned approximately $600, 000 at the time of the marriage and $1, 644, 000 in 2013.

         At trial, the defendant claimed that the parties' 2003 premarital agreement was enforceable, and that the terms of that agreement provided that all of the assets in his name only, whether accumulated before or during the marriage, belonged to him and could not be awarded to the plaintiff. Additionally, he claimed that the agreement precluded an award of alimony to the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed that the agreement was invalid and unenforceable, and she sought an equitable division of all of the marital assets as well as an award of alimony.[1]

         The court determined that the parties' premarital agreement was unenforceable. In its memorandum of decision, the court referred to the written financial disclosures appended to the premarital agreement, the financial affidavits that the parties had prepared at that time, and the testimony of the plaintiff's expert, who testified at trial as to the value of the defendant's interests in certain family partnerships and corporations at the time of the execution of the agreement. The defendant had not listed a value for the family entities in his 2003 financial affidavit, claiming that they were ‘‘too difficult or speculative to value.''[2] The court determined that the defendant's claim was ‘‘incorrect, '' and, accordingly, it concluded that the defendant ‘‘failed to meet his burden to inform and the premarital agreement [was] unenforceable.''

         The court then considered the assets in the marital estate, together with the applicable statutory factors enumerated in General Statutes §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82, and entered several financial orders. In addition to awarding the plaintiff alimony for eight years, the court awarded her a lump sum property settlement and interests in various bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Significantly, in a footnote in its decision, the court made the following observation: ‘‘The court finds no express provision in the premarital agreement that would prevent spousal support. The court finds that the definition of separate property in the premarital agreement does not include accounts solely in the defendant's name which were not listed on schedule A of the premarital agreement unless received by bequest, devise, descent, or distribution by other instrument upon death or by gift or were property acquired in exchange for the property listed on schedule A. Accordingly, the orders in this decision would be the same even if it found the premarital agreement to be valid.'' (Emphasis added.)

         The defendant filed a motion for reargument, requesting that the court reconsider its determination that the premarital agreement was invalid. Additionally, the defendant argued that the orders in the decision would not be the same if the court had determined that the premarital agreement was valid because the agreement did not provide for alimony and it did not provide for awarding the plaintiff any interest in the accounts held solely in the defendant's name. The court denied the defendant's motion without discussion. This appeal followed.

         The defendant argues that the court improperly determined that the premarital agreement was unenforceable because his disclosure of his interests in certain family partnerships and corporations was inadequate.[3] We agree with the trial court's statement that the financial orders in this dissolution action would have been permissible even if the premarital agreement had been determined to be enforceable. That is, the agreement did not preclude awarding the plaintiff alimony or interests in the assets acquired during the marriage, even if held solely in the defendant's name. Accordingly, we need not determine whether the defendant's disclosure with respect to his interests in the family partnerships and corporations was inadequate, which would render the marital agreement unenforceable.

         ‘‘[A]n antenuptial agreement is a type of contract and must, therefore, comply with ordinary principles of contract law. . . . [A]ntenuptial agreements are to be construed according to the principles of construction applicable to contracts generally. . . . [A]ntenuptial agreements relating to the property of the parties, and more specifically, to the rights of the parties to that property upon the dissolution of the marriage, are generally enforceable . . . [if] the circumstances of the parties at the time the marriage is dissolved are not so beyond the contemplation of the parties at the time the contract was entered into as to cause its enforcement to work injustice. . . . [T]he party seeking to challenge the enforceability of the antenuptial contract bears a heavy burden. . . . This heavy burden comports with the well settled general principle that [c]ourts of law must allow parties to make their own contracts. . . . It is established well beyond the need for citation that parties are free to contract for whatever terms on which they may agree. . . . ...


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