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Zaniewski v. Zaniewski

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 4, 2019


          Argued January 17, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, and tried to the court, Pinkus, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief, from which the defendant appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Connors, J., denied the defendant's motion for articulation; subsequently, this court granted the defendant's motion for review but denied the relief requested therein. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

          James E. Mortimer, for the appellant (defendant).

          Katarzyna Maluszewski, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Lavine, Prescott and Elgo, Js.


          PRESCOTT, J.

         The defendant, Cezary Zaniewski, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to the plaintiff, Malgorzata Zaniewski. The defendant claims on appeal that the court improperly (1) failed to use the parties' net incomes in calculating its orders of child support and alimony, (2) ordered the defendant to pay alimony in an amount that exceeds his ability to pay, and (3) abused its discretion by crafting inequitable property distribution and alimony orders that "excessively and unjustifiably favored the plaintiff."

         The trial court's memorandum of decision fails to set forth the factual basis for its financial orders. The trial judge who authored the decision retired shortly after issuing its decision, rendering fruitless the defendant's proper and timely efforts to remedy the decision's lack of findings in order to secure appellate review of his claims. In many cases, an inadequate record would foreclose appellate review of an appellant's claim. Nevertheless, the inadequacy of the record in the present case arises not from any fault attributable to the defendant, but from the trial court's issuance of a memorandum of decision that contained virtually no factual findings that would permit us to review appropriately the defendant's appellate claims. Although we are cognizant that the trial court is entitled to great deference in crafting financial orders in marital dissolution actions, we nevertheless conclude under the unique circumstances presented here that equity requires a new trial. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court with respect to the financial orders and order a new trial.

         The matter was tried before the court over the course of three days, ending on November 22, 2016. On November 25, 2016, the court issued a four page memorandum of decision dissolving the parties' marriage on the basis of irretrievable breakdown.

         The trial court's decision contains only the following uncontested facts. The parties were married in New York in 2005. They have two minor daughters who were issue of the marriage.[1] In January, 2016, the plaintiff, who had resided in Connecticut for at least one year, commenced the underlying action for dissolution of marriage.

         The memorandum is devoid of any relevant factual findings, and the court's legal analysis is limited to the following statement: "The court listened to and observed witnesses, and reviewed the exhibits. In addition, the court carefully considered the criteria set forth in the Connecticut General Statutes in reaching the decisions reflected in the orders below." The court did not discuss the respective financial circumstances of the parties, including any findings regarding their income or earning potential. The court made no findings with respect to the value of any marital assets, and provided no analysis or rationale for its division of the marital property or its other financial orders. The court did not indicate whether either party was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage or shared fault. The court made no explicit credibility determinations regarding the testimony of witnesses. Although the plaintiff claims that completed child support guideline worksheets were provided to the court by the parties, she concedes that they were never made a part of the record. There are no completed child support guideline worksheets in the trial court file.

         The remainder of the court's decision consists of nineteen, separately numbered orders. In addition to orders dissolving the parties' marriage and incorporating by reference the parties' parenting plan, [2] the court ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff "$204 per week as child support in accordance with the child support guidelines" and "$100 per week as alimony for a period of three years from the date of [the] judgment . . . [to] terminate upon the death of either party or the plaintiffs remarriage . . . [and] subject to the provisions of [General Statutes] § 46b-86 (b)." The parties were ordered to share equally in the cost of their children's extracurricular activities and healthcare. The court awarded the parties' delicatessen business and marital residence in Plainville to the plaintiff without assigning a value to those assets, and ordered the defendant to sign all necessary paperwork to transfer his interest in those properties to the plaintiff. The court allowed the defendant to retain "any interest he may have" in a rental property owned by his family in Queens, New York. The court did not identify what interest, if any, the defendant had in the property or assign a value to that interest, although the record indicates that these issues were hotly contested at trial.

         The court ordered that the parties be responsible for the debts listed on their respective financial affidavits, with the exception of the balance on two credit cards, for which they would be equally responsible. Each party was awarded whatever personal property currently was in his or her possession, including automobiles, and each was permitted to retain his or her own bank accounts except for certain joint accounts with Farmington Bank, which were awarded to the plaintiff. The court ...

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