January 14, 2019
for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief,
brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of
Danbury and tried to the court, Winslow, J.;
judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other
relief, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.
A. Carducci, for the appellant (plaintiff).
Douglas J. Lewis, for the appellee (defendant).
Prescott, Bright and Norcott, Js.
present appeal arises following the trial court's
judgment dissolving the marriage of the plaintiff, Nina
Buxenbaum, and the defendant, Brian S. Jones. On appeal, the
plaintiff claims that the trial court (1) failed to consider
the best interests of the children, as demonstrated by its
predetermination of custody before the close of evidence, (2)
failed to consider the defendant's earning capacity and,
therefore, rendered logically inconsistent financial orders,
and (3) lacked evidentiary support for its findings regarding
the defendant's net weekly income. We affirm the judgment
of the trial court.
record reveals the following relevant facts, which were found
by the trial court or are uncontested. The parties were
married in 2007, and have two minor children. After
approximately eight years of marriage, the plaintiff sought a
judgment dissolving the parties' marriage. In her
complaint, she requested, inter alia, joint legal custody of
the children, with primary physical custody vested in her.
During the pendency of the dissolution, the parties shared
physical and legal custody of their children, in what is
called a 5-2-2-5 plan, with the plaintiff having physical
custody of the children every Monday and Tuesday, the
defendant having physical custody of the children every
Wednesday and Thursday, and the parties alternating physical
custody of the children every Friday through Sunday. On
November 18, 2015, the court entered temporary orders
requiring the plaintiff to pay child support to the defendant
in the amount of $243 per week and alimony in the amount of
$150 per week.
September 27, 2016, the defendant filed a notice of
bankruptcy with the court. On November 21, 2016, the parties
entered into a pendente lite agreement, which the court
accepted, terminating alimony and child support, and
agreeing, on the basis of the parties' shared physical
custody of the children, that neither party would be
obligated to pay support.
February 1, 2017, the plaintiff submitted her proposed
orders, in which she requested: joint legal custody of the
children, with primarily physical custody vested in her; a
finding that the defendant's earning capacity is $140,
000 or more, but a deviation from the guidelines on the basis
of the defendant's self-employment and ‘‘the
coordination of total family support, '' and an order
that the defendant pay only $1 per year in child support
until he finds gainful employment; a waiver of alimony by
both parties; a transfer of the defendant's interest in
the marital home to the plaintiff for the sale of the home by
the plaintiff and use and possession of it by the defendant
until February 28, 2017; and that each party retain their own
retirement accounts, bank accounts, and personal effects,
February 8, 2017, the defendant submitted a set of third
amended proposed orders, requesting, inter alia, joint legal
and shared physical custody of the children, a waiver of
alimony by both parties, child support in accordance with the
guidelines, exclusive possession of the marital home, a fair
distribution of the parties' retirement accounts, and
that each party retain their own bank accounts and personal
property, but that the defendant be entitled to one half of
the plaintiff's artwork produced during the marriage.
February 22, 2017, following a trial, the court rendered a
judgment of dissolution, in which it ordered: the parties
shall share joint legal custody of the children, with no
parent having the right to act unilaterally with respect to
important decisions affecting the children, but, ultimately,
the plaintiff has final say on treatment concerning the
children's physical or emotional health; the parties
shall share physical custody of the children under a 5-2-2-5
plan; neither party shall be responsible to pay child support
to the other, but each party shall share the expenses of
extracurricular activities, school supplies, and school
trips; the plaintiff shall maintain the children on her
medical and dental plans; unreimbursed medical and dental
expenses shall be paid in accordance with the plan set forth
by the court; and neither party shall be entitled to alimony.
This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as
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 [evidence] 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. . . . As has often been
explained, the foundation for this standard isthat the trial
court is ina clearly advantageous position to assess the
personal factors significant to a domestic relations case . .
. .'' (Citation omitted; emphasis omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Kirwan v. Kirwan, 185
Conn.App. 713, 726, 197 A.3d 1000 (2018).
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. Consistent with that approach,
our courts have utilized the mosaic doctrine as a remedial
device that allows reviewing courts to remand cases for
reconsideration of all financial orders even though the
review process might reveal a flaw only in the alimony,
property distribution or child support awards.''
(Internal quotation marks omitted.) Keusch v.
Keusch, 184 Conn.App. 822, 825-26, 195 A.3d 1136 (2018).
plaintiff first claims that the court failed to consider the
best interests of the children in deciding custody, as
demonstrated by its alleged predetermination of that issue
before the close of evidence. The plaintiff argues that
custody of the two minor children was a contested issue at
trial, but that the court had prepared a child support
guidelines worksheet (worksheet), dated February 10, 2017,
‘‘prior to the conclusion of the plaintiff's
testimony and the close of evidence, based on a
predetermination that the parties will split
custody.'' (Emphasis in original.) The defendant
argues that the court began preparation of the worksheet
before the close of evidence, that the plaintiff
misrepresents the date on the worksheet, which was February
15, 2017,  and that the court gave that worksheet to
the parties to review for accuracy before rendering
judgment. He argues that there is no evidence that
the court predetermined custody, and, further, that the
evidence demonstrates that the court weighed all the
evidence, including the then current shared custody
arrangement that the parties had been following, and it
considered the best interests of the children. We conclude
that the plaintiff's claim lacks merit.
is statutorily incumbent upon a court entering orders
concerning custody or visitation . . . to be guided by the
best interests of the child. . . . In reaching a decision as
to what is in the best interests of a child, the court is
vested with broad discretion and its ruling will be reversed
only upon a showing that some legal principle or right has
been violated or that the discretion has been
abused.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
D'Amato v. Hart-D'Amato, 169 Conn.App. 669,
678, 152 A.3d 546 (2016). ‘‘The best interests of
the child, the standard by which custody decisions are
measured, does not permit . . . a predetermined weighing of
evidence.'' Yontef v. Yontef, 185 Conn. 275,
282, 440 A.2d 899 (1981). A claim that the court
predetermined the outcome of a contested issue implicates the
court's impartiality. See Havis-Carbone v.
Carbone, 155 Conn.App. 848, 866-67, 112 A.3d 779 (2015)
(court's predetermination of relocation issue implicated
court's required impartiality and constituted plain
error); Bank of America, N.A. v. Thomas, 151
Conn.App. 790, 802, 96 A.3d 624 (2014) (allegation that court
predetermined outcome of motion ‘‘implicate[d]
the court's impartiality'').
obtain appellate review, a claim of judicial bias or lack of
impartiality typically must be raised before the trial court.
See Zilkha v. Zilkha, 167 Conn.App. 480, 486, 144
A.3d 447 (2016) (‘‘[I]t is well settled that
courts will not review a claim of judicial bias on appeal
unless that claim was properly presented to the trial court .
. . . Absent plain error, a claim of judicial bias cannot be
reviewed on appeal unless preserved in the trial
court.'' [Internal quotation marks omitted.]);
Jazlo-wiecki v. Cyr, 4 Conn.App. 76, 78-79, 492 A.2d
516 (1985) (plaintiff claiming he became aware of judicial
bias after court rendered decision should have preserved
issue in motion to open and set aside judgment). Because of
the seriousness of such an allegation, however, in the
interest of justice, we may invoke our authority to review
‘‘plain error'' not properly preserved in
the trial court. See Cameron v. Cameron, 187 Conn.
163, 168, 444 A.2d 915 (1982); Practice Book § 60-5.
present case, the record contains a worksheet prepared by the
court, bearing the date February 15, 2017, and the time 5:06
p.m. The balance of the plaintiff's testimony in this
case did not conclude until February 17, 2017. The court
uploaded this worksheet into the court file on February 22,
2017, the same day it issued its memorandum of decision in
which it rendered judgment. The plaintiff alleges that this,
alone, proves that the court predetermined custody. Because
of the seriousness of the allegation, and because it is
unclear to us whether the plaintiff was aware of this issue
before the court entered judgment, we invoke our authority to
review whether the court's action constituted plain
error. We conclude that the plaintiff's claim lacks
substantiation and wholly is without merit.
court's worksheet sets forth the parties' gross and
net incomes, which are quite similar to those set forth in
the plaintiff's worksheet, and it determines the
appropriate amount of child support on the basis of, what it
called, a ‘‘split custody''
determination. The court, however, ultimately, awarded shared
legal and physical custody. See footnote 1 of this opinion.
Nevertheless, the fact that the court input data into a
worksheet before the close of evidence does not evince a
premature determination of the issues. Certainly, the court
was well within its authority to take notes, research, and
begin working on a decision during the trial, knowing that
additional evidence may require changes in the work it
already had done. The fact that the court input data into a
worksheet before the close of evidence merely demonstrates
that the court was considering and working on the case that
was before it. The ...