January 17, 2017
from Superior Court, judicial district of New London, Hon.
Hadley W. Austin, judge trial referee [dissolution judgment];
Moukawsher, J. [motion for modification].
Michael J. Cartier, for the appellant (defendant).
M. McDonough, for the appellee (plaintiff).
Sheldon, Beach and Pellegrino, Js.
defendant, Bonnie Rubenstein, appeals from the judgment of
the trial court modifying the periodic alimony order that she
previously had been ordered to pay to the plaintiff, her
former husband, Jeffrey Rubenstein. Although the
defendant's brief is not a model of clarity, her claims
on appeal can be distilled as follows. The defendant claims
that the trial court erred in modifying the alimony order
because (1) it improperly relied upon the defendant's
receipt of an inheritance as the substantial change in
circumstances upon which it based said modification, (2) it
erroneously concluded that the plaintiff's financial
circumstances had worsened since 2006, and (3) it improperly
changed the character of the alimony award when it ordered an
increased periodic order of alimony instead of the lump sum
that the plaintiff had requested. We disagree with all of the
defendant's claims, and therefore affirm the judgment of
the trial court.
following facts and procedural history are relevant to our
discussion. ‘‘In March, 1996, the plaintiff filed
an action seeking to dissolve the parties' three and
one-half year marriage. In September, 1997, while the
dissolution action was pending, the defendant removed the
parties' minor son from Connecticut in derogation of the
court's orders. . . . A few months after the
disappearance of the defendant, on December 5, 1997, the
court, Hon. Hadley W. Austin, judge trial referee,
dissolved the parties' marriage and, after finding that
the plaintiff had accumulated considerable debt in the search
for his son, ordered the defendant to pay alimony and child
support to the plaintiff. The alimony order stated
specifically that ‘[t]he defendant shall pay to the
plaintiff the amount of$50 per week as alimony, without
prejudice.' The whereabouts of the defendant and the
child were not known until 2002, when they were discovered by
federal law enforcement officers and returned to Connecticut.
the defendant's return to the jurisdiction, both parties
filed motions to modify the December, 1997 alimony and child
support award. Following a July 11, 2006 hearing at which
both parties testified, the court, Gordon, J., on
November 16, 2006, filed a memorandum of decision construing
the parties' motions to modify as motions for de novo
review of the alimony order. The court concluded that
‘[b]oth the plaintiff and the defendant have good
earning capacities, but the plaintiff's financial
situation was more dire, and moreover, it was caused by the
conduct of the defendant. It is only equitable that she
assists his support through a continuing order of alimony.
Therefore, the court [orders that] the defendant shall pay to
the plaintiff, as alimony, $50 per week until the death of
either party. . . .' '' (Footnote omitted.)
Rubenstein v. Rubenstein, 107 Conn.App.
488, 491-93, 945 A.2d 1043, cert. Denied, 289 Conn. 948, 960
A.2d 1037 (2008). The defendant appealed the trial
court's 2006 alimony order, which this court affirmed.
2015, the court, Moukawsher, J., revisited the
alimony order when the parties again filed dueling motions to
modify. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court
issued a memorandum of decision wherein it found that there
had been a substantial change in circumstances that justified
a modification of the order. After considering the
parties' financial circumstances in accordance with the
relevant statutory factors set forth in General Statutes
§ 46b-82, the court modified the periodic order from $50
per week to $200 per week.Thereafter, the defendant moved for
articulation of the trial court's decision, which was
denied. This appeal followed.
begin by setting forth our standard of review.
‘‘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. . . . 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. . . .
courts have broad discretion in deciding motions for
modification. . . . Modification of alimony, after the date
of a dissolution judgment, is governed by General Statutes
§ 46b-86. . . . When . . . the disputed issue is
alimony, the applicable provision of the statute is §
46b-86 (a), which provides that a final order for alimony may
be modified by the trial court upon a showing of a
substantial change in the circumstances of either party. . .
. The party seeking modification bears the burden of showing
the existence of a substantial change in the circumstances. .
. . The change may be in the circumstances of either party. .
. . The date of the most recent prior proceeding in which an
alimony order was entered is the appropriate date to use in
determining whether a significant change in circumstances
warrants a modification of an alimony award. . . .
general the same sorts of [criteria] are relevant in deciding
whether the decree may be modified as are relevant in making
the initial award of alimony. . . . More specifically, these
criteria, outlined in . . . § 46b-82, require the court
to consider the needs and financial resources of each of the
parties . . . as well as such factors as the causes for the
dissolution of the marriage and the age, health, station,
occupation, employability and amount and sources of income of
the parties.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
Schwarz v. Schwarz, 124 Conn.App. 472,
476-77, 5 A.3d 548, cert. denied, 299 Conn. 909, 10 A.3d 525
financial orders in family matters are generally reviewed for
an abuse of discretion . . . this court applies a less
deferential standard when the decision of the trial court is
based not on an exercise of discretion but on a purported
principle of law. . . . Notwithstanding the great deference
accorded the trial court in dissolution proceedings, a trial
court's ruling . . . may be reversed if, in the exercise
of its discretion, the trial court applies the wrong standard