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Ray v. Ray

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 31, 2017

DEEPALI RAY
v.
SURAJIT D. RAY

          Argued May 22, 2017

          Joseph T. O'Connor, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Sarah E. Murray, with whom, on the brief, was Caitlin R. Trow, for the appellee (defendant).

          Keller, Mullins and Norcott, Js.

         Syllabus

         The plaintiff, whose marriage to the defendant previously had been dissolved, appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court granting the defendant's postjudgment motion for an order establishing his child support obligation in accordance with the child support and arrearage guidelines, as set forth in the applicable state regulations (§ 46b-215a-1 et seq.), and from the court's denial of the relief that she had requested in her motion to reargue that ruling. The defendant sought the order when, pursuant to the dissolution judgment, his unallocated alimony and child support obligation had terminated. At the hearing on the motion for order, the parties presented evidence and testimony regarding their respective incomes. The defendant testified that he received deferred compensation in addition to his base salary, but that the amount of such compensation was indeterminate. A child support guidelines worksheet prepared by a family relations officer also was submitted to the trial court. Following the hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's motion and ordered him to pay $288 in child support, which was the presumptive minimum amount pursuant to the schedule in the child support guidelines for parties whose combined net weekly income exceeded $4000. The court also declined to enter a supplemental child support order based on a percentage of the defendant's deferred compensation income as the plaintiff had requested. Thereafter, the trial court granted the plaintiff's motion to reargue but denied the relief requested therein, and this appeal followed.

         Held:

         1. Contrary to the defendant's assertion that the plaintiff had failed to provide a record that was adequate for review by failing to comply with the applicable rules of practice (§§ 64-1 and 67-4), the plaintiff's claims were reviewable on appeal; the record included the transcripts of the relevant hearings, and this court was able to readily identify those portions of the transcripts that encompassed the trial court's factual and legal findings with respect to its rulings and to discern the evidentiary basis, or lack thereof, for the arguments advanced by the parties.

         2. The plaintiff could not prevail on her claim that the trial court erred by entering an order establishing the defendant's child support obligation without making a finding as to his net income; the record indicated that, in determining the defendant's child support obligation, the trial court had before it the parties' financial affidavits and other evidence as to their net incomes, that the court specifically stated that it had taken all of the evidence presented into account in fashioning its child support order, and that it stated, referencing the child support guidelines worksheet, the amounts of the parties' gross and net incomes that justified its order.

         3. This court declined to review the plaintiff's claim that the trial court, in making its findings, improperly relied on an unsworn child support guidelines worksheet that contained information that was contrary to the gross and net incomes set forth in the parties' financial affidavits or testified to by the parties, the plaintiff having failed to properly preserve her claim for appeal: the plaintiff did not object to the submission of the guidelines worksheet during the hearings on the parties' respective motions or to the trial court's consideration of it on the grounds asserted on appeal, and the plaintiff's motion to reargue did not refer to the guidelines worksheet; moreover, the plaintiff's counsel admitted during the hearing on the motion to reargue that the guidelines worksheet was based on the defendant's financial affidavit, which directly contradicted the plaintiff's claim on appeal.

         4. The plaintiff could not prevail on her claim that the trial court improperly failed to take into account the defendant's income in excess of his base salary in determining his child support obligation, and, therefore, that its child support order did not comply with the child support guidelines: there was no indication in the record that the trial court did not consider the evidence regarding the defendant's deferred compensation income, as it specifically stated during the hearings on the parties' respective motions that it had considered all of the relevant evidence and testimony in making its order, and even if it had been provided with sufficient evidence to assign a predictable amount to the defendant's bonus income, it nevertheless had the discretion to order only the presumptive minimum child support amount and to decline to enter any supplemental order given that the parties' combined net weekly base salaries were in excess of $4000 per week; moreover, the court properly exercised its discretion by ordering the presumptive minimum amount of child support under the child support guidelines and declining to enter a supplemental order given the high incomes of the parties, the lack of any evidence as to any specialized or particular financial needs of the parties' minor child, that other unmodified portions of the dissolution decree addressed payment for many additional expenses related to the child, and that the plaintiff presented little evidence to justify a higher amount or to show that the presumptive minimum amount would be inappropriate or inequitable, thereby requiring the application of the deviation criteria in the guidelines.

         5. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the relief requested by the plaintiff in her motion to reargue; the plaintiff's counsel essentially argued at the hearing on the motion to reargue that the facts surrounding the defendant's income had not clearly been presented to the court, which was an improper use of a motion to reargue, as the plaintiff did not present any evidence that the court had misapprehended or that could not have been discovered earlier and presented during the hearing on the defendant's motion for order, and she did not request that the court consider any overlooked legal authority or claim.

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk and tried to the court, Shay, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief; thereafter, the court, Jacobs, J., granted the defendant's motion for order and issued an order regarding child support; subsequently, the court, Jacobs, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to reargue but denied the relief requested therein, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          KELLER, J.

         The plaintiff, Deepali Ray, appeals from the judgment of the trial court granting the postjudgment motion brought by the defendant, Surajit D. Ray, for an order establishing his child support obligation to the plaintiff in accordance with the state's child support and arrearage guidelines (guidelines), Regs. Conn. State Agencies § 46b-215a-1 et seq. The plaintiff also appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after argument, denying the relief requested in her postjudgment motion for reargument and reconsideration. The defendant sought an order establishing his child support obligation when, pursuant to the judgment of dissolution rendered on August 11, 2008, his unallocated alimony and child support obligation had terminated. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred by (1) establishing the defendant's child support obligation without making a finding as to his net income, (2) making findings as to the parties' gross and net incomes based upon an unsworn child support guidelines worksheet (guidelines worksheet) prepared by a family relations officer where the information on the guidelines worksheet was contrary to the evidence, and (3) failing to take into account the defendant's income in excess of his base salary when it determined his child support obligation. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court or apparent from the record, and procedural history are pertinent to our consideration of this appeal. The parties were married on June 26, 1994, and they have one minor child who was born on September 1, 2005. At the time of the dissolution, the plaintiff was thirty-nine years old and in good health. She has a masters degree in business administration and was employed as a financial manager at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, earning a base salary of $92, 000 per year. She also was eligible for bonuses. The defendant was thirty-six years old and also in good health. He was employed as an executive director at Morgan Stanley, earning a base salary of $150, 000 per year. He too was eligible for bonuses. Following a trial, the court, Shay, J. dissolved the parties' marriage and made a finding ‘‘[t]hat taking into consideration the factors set forth in General Statutes § 46b-82, including the age, education, earnings and work experience of the [plaintiff], in light of the facts and circumstances of this case, a time limited award of alimony is appropriate.'' The dissolution court also made a finding ‘‘[t]hat the combined net weekly income of the parties is $3145; that basic child support is $418 per week; and that the [defendant's] share is $255 per week . . . .''

         The court further ordered that in the event that the alimony should terminate for whatever reason and the child was still a minor, commencing with the first day of the first month following such termination, and monthly thereafter, the defendant would pay to the plaintiff a sum consistent with the then existing guidelines, or as the court may otherwise direct, as child support until such time as the child reached the age of eighteen years. In the event, however, that the child turns eighteen years old and is still in high school, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-84 (b), the child support order shall continue until the first day of the next month following the child's graduation from high school or his nineteenth birthday, whichever occurs first.

         The court also ordered that the child's extracurricular expenses, including summer camp and day care expenses, would be shared by the parties equally. The plaintiff was ordered to maintain and pay for health insurance for the child, so long as it is available to her through her employment at a reasonable cost. In the event that such insurance is unavailable to the plaintiff, the defendant was ordered to ‘‘obtain and maintain health insurance for the . . . child at his expense, so long as he shall be obligated to pay child support [or subject to] an educational support order pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-56c, or an order based upon a written agreement of the parties for postmajority educational support.'' The dissolution judgment incorporated the agreement of the parties that all unreimbursed medical, dental, orthodontic, optical, pharmaceutical, psychiatric, and psychological expenses for the child would be shared by the parties equally. The dissolution court also reserved jurisdiction to enter an educational support order pursuant to § 46b-56c.

         Shortly after it rendered its judgment dissolving the marriage, the dissolution court issued an amendment and corrections to its memorandum of decision that amended its original order of unallocated alimony and child support. The dissolution court deviated from the guidelines and entered financial orders providing that the defendant was to pay to the plaintiff $3125 per month as unallocated alimony and child support until the death of either party, the remarriage of the plaintiff, or August 31, 2015, whichever occurred first. In addition, commencing September 1, 2008, for so long as the defendant had an outstanding alimony obligation to the plaintiff, within two weeks after receipt by the defendant of any gross additional cash compensation from his employment, including, but not limited to, any salary, bonus or incentive pay in excess of his base salary of $150, 000, the defendant was to pay to the plaintiff 25 percent of such gross additional cash compensation up to and including the first $200, 000 per year of such additional compensation, as additional periodic unallocated alimony and child support, until the death of either party, the remarriage of the plaintiff, or August 31, 2015, whichever occurred first.

         On September 4, 2015, the defendant filed a postjudgment motion for order requesting that the court enter an order establishing his child support obligation in accordance with the guidelines, as the plaintiff's alimony had terminated on August 31, 2015.

         On October 19, 2015, the court held a hearing on the defendant's motion. At the hearing, both parties presented evidence and testimony regarding their respective incomes, and during the hearing, the guidelines worksheet prepared by a family relations officer was submitted to the court after it noted that it had not been provided with one. The guidelines worksheet reflected a combined net weekly income of $6000 using the parties' base salaries and allowing for permitted deductions.

         The defendant requested that the court enter an order of $288 weekly, which was the amount suggested on the guidelines worksheet. The plaintiff submitted into evidence her own child support calculations. The plaintiff requested, on the basis of her calculations, that the trial court order the defendant to pay her child support in the amount of $895 per week, or $3878 per month, and that the court ‘‘consider the . . . [defendant's] deferred compensation . . . [a]nd include [it] in providing an order.''

         The court, after stating that it had considered all of the evidence, including the testimony of the parties, the exhibits, the parties' financial affidavits, and guidelines, ordered the defendant to pay the requisite presumptive minimum child support in the amount of $288, in accordance with the guidelines.[1] The court did not issue any supplemental child support order based on the deferred compensation the defendant receives in addition to his base salary.

         On November 3, 2015, the plaintiff filed a motion for reargument or reconsideration postjudgment (motion to reargue). The court granted the plaintiff's motion and held a hearing on January 20, 2016. Following argument by counsel for both parties, the court denied the plaintiff the relief she requested and determined that its decision of October 19, 2015, would stand, reiterating that it had ‘‘considered the . . . guidelines, the statutory factors of criteria . . . [and] all the evidence that was presented, including the financial affidavits and their attachments.'' This appeal followed.[2] Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

         We begin with the well established standard of review relative to 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. . . . 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. 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.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Valentine v. Valentine, 164 Conn.App. 354, 361, 141 A.3d 884, cert. denied, 321 Conn. 917, 136 A.3d 1275 (2016).

         In Fox v. Fox, 152 Conn.App. 611, 619 n.3, 99 A.3d 1206, cert. denied, 314 Conn. 945, 103 A.3d 977 (2014), we applied the abuse of discretion standard to our review of a modification of a child support order, reasoning that the claims at issue ‘‘challenge the manner in which the court applied the guidelines, not the applicability of the guidelines or the extent thereof'' and that ‘‘[t]he parties do not dispute that the guidelines governed the court's decision on the plaintiff's motion to modify child support.'' In the present case, the challenge on appeal is the manner in which the trial court applied the guidelines.[3]

         I

         Before we address the plaintiff's claims, we must consider the defendant's assertion that the plaintiff has failed to provide an adequate record for review by failing to comply with Practice Book § 64-1 and by failing to support the arguments in her appellate brief with appropriate citations to the record.

         First, the defendant argues that the plaintiff failed to comply with Practice Book § 64-1 (a), thereby rendering the record inadequate for review. ‘‘If an oral decision is rendered, a signed transcript of the oral decision should be created and filed for use in any appeal. If the court fails to file an oral or written decision, the appellant, who has the duty to provide an adequate record for appellate review; see Practice Book § 61-10; must file a notice to that effect with the appellate clerk in accordance with Practice Book § 64-1 (b).'' Gordon v. Gordon, 148 Conn.App. 59, 66-67, 84 A.3d 923 (2014). In the present case, the court did not file a written memorandum of decision explaining its ruling, nor did it prepare and sign a transcript of its oral ruling as required by Practice Book § 64-1 (a). The plaintiff did not file a motion pursuant to Practice Book § 64-1 (b) providing notice that the court had not filed a written decision or a signed transcript of its oral decision, nor did the plaintiff take any additional steps to obtain a decision in compliance with Practice Book § 64-1 (a).

         ‘‘When the record does not contain either a memorandum of decision or transcribed copy of an oral decision signed by the trial court stating the reasons for its decision, this court frequently has declined to review the claims on appeal because the appellant has failed to provide the court with an adequate record for review. . . . Moreover, [t]he requirements of Practice Book § 64-1 are not met simply by filing with the appellate clerk a transcript of the entire trial court proceedings. . . . Despite an appellant's failure to satisfy the requirements of Practice Book § 64-1, this court has, on occasion, reviewed claims of error in light of an unsigned transcript as long as the transcript contains a sufficiently detailed and concise statement of the trial court's findings.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Stechel v. Foster, 125 Conn.App. 441, 445, 8 A.3d 545 (2010), cert. denied, 300 Conn. 904, 12 A.3d 572 (2011); see also State v. Brunette, 92 Conn.App. 440, 446, 886 A.2d 427 (2005), cert. denied, 277 Conn. 902, 891 A.2d 2 (2006).

         Although we do not countenance this violation of our rules of practice, we are not persuaded that the plaintiff's failure to perfect the record as required by Practice Book § 64-1 in the present case is fatal to her appeal because the record before us includes the transcripts of the court hearings and we can readily identify those portions of the transcripts that encompass the court's factual ...


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