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Mason v. Ford

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 26, 2017

MALCOLM E. MASON
v.
HONOR A. FORD

          Argued March 9, 2017

          Honor A. Ford, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Malcolm E. Mason, self-represented, the appellee (plaintiff).

          Keller, Mullins and Harper, Js.

         Syllabus

         The defendant, whose marriage to the plaintiff previously had been dissolved, appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court granting in part her motion for modification of her child support obligation to the plaintiff. Although the trial court had granted a modification of the support order to $0 per week, it also found an arrearage of $2215, based on the defendant's failure to pay $174 per week to the plaintiff for a period of sixteen weeks. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in finding the arrearage, and she challenged the court's finding concerning the date on which her payments to the plaintiff had stopped, as well as the court's finding of the date that the modification of child support should take retroactive effect. Held that the trial court's factual finding that the defendant had not paid her support obligation, and its implicit finding that the nonpayment began in November, 2015, were not clearly erroneous, as the court acted within its discretion when it implicitly credited the plaintiff's testimony that the child support payments had ended toward the middle to end of 2015, over that of the defendant, who testified that the payments were current as of January, 2016; nevertheless, in determining that the end date of the arrearage period was in March, 2016, the court abused its discretion by not complying with the limitations of the statute (§ 46b-86 [a]) that provides the court with discretion to modify a support order with retroactive effect to the date on which the motion to modify was served on the opposing party, as the defendant's motion for modification was served on the plaintiff in June, 2016, and, thus, strict compliance with the limitations of § 46b-86 (a) would have permitted an effective date no earlier than June, 2016; moreover, given that, during oral argument before this court, the plaintiff expressed that he had waived his claim to a certain portion of the arrearage that was apparently omitted from the assessment due to a computational error of the trial court, combined with the fact the plaintiff had suggested the March, 2016 date to the trial court, it was unclear whether the trial court drafted the modification order to take effect in March, 2016, because it viewed the suggested date as an implicit waiver of the plaintiff's claim to the portion of the arrearage accruing between March and June, 2016, and because that factual question could not be resolved on the basis of the record before this court, the matter was remanded to the trial court for a determination of a new effective date of the arrearage and a recalculation thereof, including a specific finding as to whether the plaintiff waived a portion of the arrearage.

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury, where the defendant filed a counterclaim; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Hon. Lloyd Cutsumpas, judge trial referee; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief; subsequently, the court, Nastri, J., denied in part the defendant's motion for modification and issued certain orders; thereafter, the court, Nastri, J., granted in part the defendant's motion for modification, and the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          OPINION

          HARPER, J.

         The self-represented defendant, Honor A. Ford, appeals from a postjudgment modification of a child support order entered subsequent to the dissolution of her marriage to the self-represented plaintiff, Malcolm E. Mason. In this appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in finding a child support arrearage against her in the amount of $2215, for a period of sixteen weeks terminating on March 7, 2016.[1]For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the matter must be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         The following facts as found by the court or apparent from the record are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The parties' marriage was dissolved by the court on February 7, 2011. At the time of the events giving rise to this appeal, an order was in place requiring the defendant to pay child support to the plaintiff in the amount of $174 per week. On June 3, 2016, the defendant filed a motion to modify her child support obligation on the ground that she no longer had any income, and a copy of the motion was served on the plaintiff by a state marshal on June 14, 2016. At a June 27, 2016 hearing, the parties agreed that the support obligation should be reduced to $0 per week, and the only dispute concerned an alleged arrearage, about which both parties testified. The defendant stated her child support obligation had been current as of January 6, 2016, when she lost her income. The plaintiff testified that he had not received payments since the ‘‘middle to end'' of 2015, though he could not provide a precise date. He estimated the total amount of the arrearage to be approximately $5000.

         During the hearing, the trial court indicated that it viewed the task before it as determining to which date the modification would take retroactive effect, which in turn would allow the court to determine the amount, if any, of the arrearage. The plaintiff stipulated that he would object to a retroactive modification only if the effective date was earlier than March 7, 2016. The defendant offered no specific date, but seemed to indicate that the modification date should be linked to an earlier motion for modification that she had filed on February 2, 2016. See footnote 1 of this opinion. On July 1, 2016, the trial court issued an order granting a modification of the support order to $0 per week, effective March 7, 2016. The trial court also found an arrearage of $2215, based on a failure to pay the required $174 per week for sixteen weeks.[2] The order did not reference any particular evidence in the record or state the date on which the last payment was made. No further articulation was requested by the parties. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in finding an arrearage of $2215 based on nonpayment of child support for sixteen weeks ending on March 7, 2016. She asserts that because she had no income, the trial court should not have required her to make back payments. She also appears to argue that the arrearage period cutoff date should have been based on the date she lost her income, January 6, 2016, on which date she claims to have been current on her support obligation. This argument would result in no arrearage. In response, the plaintiff argues that the evidence supports the trial court's findings and that it did not abuse its discretion in assessing an arrearage.

         ‘‘The well settled standard of review in domestic relations cases is that [an appellate 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.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) McKeon v.Lennon, 321 Conn. 323, 341, 138 A.3d 242 (2016). ‘‘Trial courts have broad discretion in deciding motions for modification.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Robinson v.Robinson, 172 Conn.App. 393, 400, 160 A.3d 376 (2017). ‘‘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. . . . [T]o the extent that the trial court has made findings of fact, our review is limited to deciding whether those findings were clearly erroneous.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. ‘‘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.) Sousa v.S ...


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