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Riccio v. Riccio

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 31, 2018


          Argued April 19, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the court, Nastri, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Keith Yagaloff, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Fatima T. Lobo, for the appellee (defendant).

          Sheldon, Bright and Bear, Js.


          PER CURIAM.

         The plaintiff, James Riccio, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to the defendant, Lisa Riccio. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court (1) abused its discretion in making its financial orders because, in their entirety, they favored the defendant; (2) erred in applying the present division method of valuation to the distribution of the parties' defined benefit plans; and (3) erred in its treatment of the plaintiff's pay-status pension and the defendant's nonpay-status pension. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the plaintiff's claims. The plaintiff and the defendant were married on October 20, 1978. The plaintiff brought the underlying action for dissolution of marriage by complaint dated March 8, 2016. Following a five day trial, on May 24, 2017, the court dissolved the parties' marriage on the ground of irretrievable break-down, [1] and entered various financial and property division orders. The court ordered, in relevant part, that the defendant pay to the plaintiff $125 per week for a period of eighteen months as rehabilitative alimony, [2]and that the plaintiff pay to the defendant $1 per week as alimony for a period of eighteen months because the defendant's employment future was uncertain. The court also ordered that ‘‘[t]he defendant shall transfer $48, 750 to the plaintiff from her Fidelity 401 (k) plan . . . . This distribution takes into account the disparity in the parties' defined benefit plans. . . . The parties shall retain, free and clear of any claim by the other, their defined benefit plans. . . . The defendant shall retain . . . any interest she has in [her] Computershare MetLife policy. The plaintiff shall retain the Minnesota Life Insurance Policy, and its cash value . . . .''[3] (Footnote omitted.) This appeal followed.

         We begin by setting forth our general standard of review in family matters. ‘‘The standard of review in family matters is well settled. 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. . . . It is within the province of the trial court to find facts and draw proper inferences from the evidence 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. . . . [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. . . . Appellate review of a trial court's findings of fact is governed by the clearly erroneous standard of review. . . . 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.) Powell-Ferri v. Ferri, 326 Conn. 457, 464, 165 A.3d 1124 (2017).

         The plaintiff first claims that the court abused its discretion because its ‘‘financial orders . . . are inequitably favorable to the defendant [because the] orders assign to the defendant the large majority of the marital assets and income.'' Specifically, the plaintiff challenges the court's orders regarding the alimony award, the division of the parties' pensions and retirement funds, unknown future debt, the requirement that the parties pay their own health insurance, the defendant's MetLife account, and attorney's fees.

         ‘‘In dissolution proceedings, the court must fashion its financial orders in accordance with the criteria set forth in [General Statutes] § 46b-81 (division of marital property) and [General Statutes] § 46b-82 (alimony).'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Rozsa v. Rozsa, 117 Conn.App. 1, 9, 977 A.2d 722 (2009); see also Loughlin v. Loughlin, 280 Conn. 632, 640, 910 A.2d 963 (2006). ‘‘Under these statutes, the court shall consider, inter alia: the length of the marriage, the causes for the . . . dissolution of the marriage . . . the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate . . . and needs of each of the parties . . . .''[4] (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Loughlin v. Loughlin, supra, 640. ‘‘While the trial court must consider the delineated statutory criteria . . . no single criterion is preferred over others, and the court is accorded wide latitude in varying the weight placed upon each item under the peculiar circumstances of each case. . . . A trial court . . . need not give each factor equal weight . . . or recite the statutory criteria that it considered in making its decision or make express findings as to each statutory factor.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Kent v. DiPaola, 178 Conn.App. 424, 431-32, 175 A.3d 601 (2017).

         Importantly, ‘‘§ 46b-81 (a) permits the farthest reaches from an equal division as is possible, allowing the court to assign to either the husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other. . . . On the basis of the plain language of § 46b-81, there is no presumption in Connecticut that marital property should be divided equally prior to applying the statutory criteria.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Kaczynski v. Kaczynski, 124 Conn.App. 204, 213, 3 A.3d 1034 (2010). Additionally, ‘‘[i]ndividual financial orders in a dissolution action are part of the carefully crafted mosaic that comprises the entire asset reallocation plan. . . . Under the mosaic doctrine, financial orders should not be viewed as a collection of single disconnected occurrences, but rather as a seamless collection of interdependent elements.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Barcelo v. Barcelo, 158 Conn.App. 201, 226, 118 A.3d 657, cert. denied, 319 Conn. 910, 123 A.3d 882 (2015).

         We have considered carefully the plaintiff's various arguments in support of his claim regarding the court's financial orders, and we conclude that he has not established that the court has misapplied the law, abused its discretion or committed clear error. The court's distribution of the parties' assets, although not equal inmonetary terms, is not inequitable solely on the basis of that disparity.[5] See, e.g., O'Brien v. O'Brien, 326 Conn. 81, 122, 161 A.3d 1236 (2017) (‘‘[A] distribution ratio of 78 percent to 22 percent is not, on its face, excessive, as the plaintiff contends. Indeed, we have upheld distributions awarding as much as 90 percent of the marital estate to one party.''). Our ...

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