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Grant v. Grant

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 28, 2017

JENNIFER GRANT
v.
WINSTON GRANT

          Submitted on briefs December 2, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Hon. Howard T. Owens, Jr., judge trial referee.

          David N. Rubin, for the appellant (defendant).

          Marissa L. Bigelli, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Beach and Sheldon, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The defendant, Winston Grant, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to the plaintiff, Jennifer Grant, and entering related financial orders. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court abused its discretion in (1) finding him in contempt for violating the court's automatic orders, (2) ordering him to pay the plaintiff $30, 425.98[1]from his retirement account within thirty days from the judgment and (3) finding that he owned real property in Jamaica and ordering him to pay the plaintiff $20, 000 reflecting the plaintiff's contributions to that property within four[2] years. We agree with the defendant. Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the trial court and remand the matter for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

         The following facts, which either were found by the court in its memorandum of decision or are undisputed in the record, and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the issues raised on appeal. The parties were married on September 21, 1996, and did not have any children. The plaintiff commenced the present action seeking dissolution of the parties' marriage on April 9, 2014. The commencement of this action included service of notice of the automatic orders in accordance with Practice Book § 25-5.[3] At that time, the parties' two main assets of any significance were their jointly owned multifamily house located at 391 Summer field Avenue in Bridgeport where the plaintiff was residing and the defendant's Chase retirement account worth $76, 064.97.

         On September 16, 2014, several months prior to the dissolution trial, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt, alleging that the defendant had violated the automatic orders. She also filed a motion for order regarding the defendant's retirement account in which she requested that the court order the defendant to cease withdrawing funds from that account, to immediately replenish the account and for the remaining cash in that account to be placed into a trust account until trial.[4] On September 26, 2014, the defendant filed an objection to the motion for contempt to which he affixed an accounting of expenses document.

         On January 15, 2015, the court, Hon. Howard T. Owens, Jr., judge trial referee, rendered judgment dissolving the parties' marriage and entered financial orders in a written memorandum of decision. With regard to the issues in this appeal, the court made the following findings and entered the following financial orders. In § 3 of its memorandum of decision, the court expressly stated: ‘‘The evidence is clear that the [defendant] has substantially depleted his retirement account. Subsequent to the service of the complaint in this matter, he had available $76, 064.97 in his retirement account. On April 21, 2014, and April 23, 2014, he totally depleted said account and paid taxes and penalties thereon. His withdrawals were clearly in violation of the court's [automatic] orders and the court finds his conduct wilful and finds him in contempt. He shall immediately transfer the current value of his [retirement account] to [the plaintiff] (approximately $6700) and shall pay to her the sum of 40 percent of the $76, 064.97 [i.e., $30, 425.98] that he had in his depleted retirement [account] after being given a credit for interest and penalties paid thereon. Said sum shall be paid within thirty days from the date of this judgment.'' In § 4, the court ordered: ‘‘The real property located at 391 Summerfield Avenue in Bridgeport shall be owned exclusively by the [plaintiff], and [she] shall be entitled to the rental income both current and past.'' In § 5, the court ordered: ‘‘The real estate in Jamaica shall be the exclusive property of the [defendant]. However, the [defendant] shall pay to the [plaintiff] the sum of $20, 000 that she has contributed to its upkeep and maintenance when said real estate is sold. If [the property] is not sold within four years, said sum, $20, 000, shall be due and payable at that time . . . .'' The defendant filed the present appeal, challenging the court's contempt finding and these financial orders.

         On April 13, 2015, the defendant filed a motion for articulation in which he asked the trial court to articulate, among other things, whether it concluded that he had violated the automatic orders provisions of Practice Book § 25-5 by depleting his retirement account to pay for such things as taxes, attorney fees, rent, food and furniture. The defendant also asked the trial court to articulate whether it concluded that he owned the property in Jamaica, and if so, the basis for this factual finding. On May 11, 2015, the court denied the defendant's motion for articulation. On May 19, 2015, the defendant filed with this court a motion for review of the trial court's denial of his motion for articulation, which was granted, and this court ordered the relief requested by the defendant. On August 18, 2015, the trial court filed responses in accordance with our order. In its articulation, the trial court explained that it found the defendant in violation of the automatic orders, that the defendant had spent $76, 064.97 from his retirement account on customary and usual household expenditures which it further stated were not in violation of the automatic orders, and that the defendant was the exclusive owner of the property in Jamaica, but the court did not cite any evidence supporting its findings.

         On August 27, 2015, the defendant filed with this court a second motion for review of the trial court's failure to fully respond to his requests for articulations four and six, which asked what amount of his retirement account it determined to be spent on customary and usual household expenditures and the amount that was spent on expenditures in violation of the court's automatic orders. This court granted both the motion and the relief requested therein and ordered the trial court to articulate: ‘‘(1) what amount of the [defendant's] retirement funds it determined that [he] had properly spent on ordinary household expenditures and what were those expenditures; and (2) what amount of the husband's retirement funds it determined the husband had spent on expenditures that were violative of the automatic court orders and what were those expenditures.'' On November 18, 2015, the trial court responded by articulating: ‘‘(1) On April 21, and April 23, 2014, subsequent to the service of the complaint in this matter, [the defendant] had in his retirement account $76, 064.97. Subsequent to the service of the complaint, he withdrew over a period of time all of said sums from his savings with the exception of $6000. [The sum of] $10, 498 was used to satisfy his tax obligations thereto. The withdrawals also occurred subsequent to the date of service of the complaint (April 9, 2014). He had a tax obligation of approximately $14, 000. In addition, he spent money for furniture and rental expenses, according to his testimony. In addition, [the defendant] claims to have expended $950 per month in rental at an apartment occupied on Pearl Harbor Street in Bridge-port. (2) Expenses for food, clothing and alleged rental expenditures. At the time of dissolution, [the defendant] had depleted approximately $70, 000 from his savings account.''

         On November 24, 2015, the defendant filed with this court his third motion for review of the trial court's articulation, which we granted but denied the relief requested therein. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.[5]

         We begin by setting forth the relevant standard of review of the court's orders. ‘‘[I]n domestic relations cases . . . this court will not disturb trial court orders unless the trial court has abused its legal discretion or its findings have no reasonable basis in the facts. . . . As has often been explained, the foundation for this standard is that the trial court is in a clearly advantageous position to assess the personal factors significant to a domestic relations case . . . . In determining whether a trial court ...


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