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Bolat v. Bolat

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 23, 2019

JEAN-PIERRE BOLAT
v.
YUMI S. BOLAT

          Argued March 13, 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 Haven and tried to the court, Abery-Wet-stone, J.; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief; thereafter, the court, Shluger, J., granted the defendant's motion for contempt; subsequently, the court, Klatt, J., denied the plaintiff's motion for contempt; thereafter, the court, Klatt, J., granted the defendant's motion for contempt; subsequently, the court, Klatt, J., denied the plaintiff's motion to modify child support, and the plaintiff appealed to this court; thereafter, the court, Klatt, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for articulation. Affirmed.

          Jean-Pierre Bolat, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

          Richard W. Callahan, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Elgo and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

          ELGO, J.

         In this contentious postdissolution case, the self-represented plaintiff, Jean-Pierre Bolat, appeals from various postdissolution judgments rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendant, Yumi S. Bolat. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) granted the defendant's May 9, 2017 motion for contempt, denied his September 19, 2017 motion for contempt, and granted the defendant's August 23, 2017 motion for contempt; and (2) denied his motion to modify his child support obligation. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The parties' marriage was dissolved on June 21, 2011. They have three children together. On April 11, 2017, the parties entered into a stipulation governing various parenting matters and child support, which was approved by and made an order of the court (stipulation). Pursuant to the stipulation, the parties shared joint legal custody, and the children primarily resided with the defendant. It also provided for the two elder children to use the plaintiff's residence in Wallingford as their residence for school purposes and to finish high school at Sheehan High School in Wallingford. The stipulation further provided that ‘‘the [plaintiff] shall have parenting time to include every other weekend from Friday after school until Monday when school commences or [9 a.m.].'' It also stated that ‘‘[i]f the custodial parent cannot be with the children, it is the custodial parent's responsibility to make arrangements for the children unless the noncustodial parent agrees in writing to take the children.''

         Subsequent to entering into the stipulation, both parties filed various motions with the court. On August 8, 2017, the court granted the defendant's May 9, 2017 motion for contempt and found the plaintiff in contempt for failing to make arrangements for the children when he could not take them during his scheduled parenting time. On October 4, 2017, the court denied the plaintiff's September 19, 2017 motion for contempt when it determined that the issues raised by the plaintiff's motion were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. On October 19, 2017, the court granted the defendant's August 23, 2017 motion for contempt and found the plaintiff in contempt for failing to pay $3000 toward the purchase of a vehicle for their children. On November 21, 2017, the court denied the plaintiff's July 31, 2017 motion to modify his child support obligation, concluding that the plaintiff had ‘‘failed to meet his burden of showing a significant change in his financial circumstances . . . .'' From these judgments the plaintiff now appeals.

         I

         CONTEMPT CLAIMS

         The plaintiff first claims that the court improperly (1) granted the defendant's May 9, 2017 motion for contempt, (2) denied his September 19, 2017 motion for contempt, and (3) granted the defendant's August 23, 2017 motion for contempt. We disagree.

         We begin by setting forth our standard of review and relevant legal principles. ‘‘[O]ur analysis of a judgment of contempt consists of two levels of inquiry. First, we must resolve the threshold question of whether the underlying order constituted a court order that was sufficiently clear and unambiguous so as to support a judgment of contempt. . . . This is a legal inquiry subject to de novo review. . . . Second, if we conclude that the underlying court order was sufficiently clear and unambiguous, we must then determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in issuing, or refusing to issue, a judgment of contempt, which includes a review of the trial court's determination of whether the violation was wilful or excused by a good faith dispute or misunderstanding.'' (Citations omitted.) In re Leah S., 284 Conn. 685, 693-94, 935 A.2d 1021 (2007).

         ‘‘Civil contempt is committed when a person violates an order of court which requires that person in specific and definite language to do or refrain from doing an act or series of acts. . . . Whether an order is sufficiently clear and unambiguous is a necessary prerequisite for a finding of contempt because [t]he contempt remedy is particularly harsh . . . and may be founded solely upon some clear and express direction of the court. . . . One cannot be placed in contempt for failure to read the court's mind. . . . It is also logically sound that a person must not be found in contempt of a court order when ambiguity either renders compliance with the order impossible, because it is not clear enough to put a reasonable person on notice of what is required for compliance, or makes the order susceptible to a court's arbitrary interpretation of whether a party is in compliance with the order.'' (Citations omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 695.

         The order at issue is the stipulation, entered into by the parties, which was made an order of the court. ‘‘In domestic relations cases, [a] judgment rendered in accordance with . . . a stipulation of the parties is to be regarded and construed as a contract. . . . It is well established that [a] contract must be construed to effectuate the intent of the parties, which is determined from the language used interpreted in the light of the situation of the parties and the circumstances connected with the transaction. . . . [T]he intent of the parties is to be ascertained by a fair and reasonable construction of the written words and . . . the language used must be accorded its common, natural, and ordinary meaning and usage where it can be sensibly applied to the subject matter of the contract. . . . Where the language of the contract is clear and unambiguous, the contract is to be given effect according to its terms. A court will not torture words to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning leaves no room for ambiguity . . . . Similarly, any ambiguity in a contract must emanate from the language used in the contract rather than from one party's subjective perception of the terms. . . . Contract language is unambiguous when it has a definite and precise meaning . . . concerning which there is no reasonable basis for a difference of opinion . . . . In contrast, an agreement is ambiguous when its language is reasonably susceptible of more than one interpretation. . . . Nevertheless, the mere fact that the parties advance different interpretations of the language in question does not necessitate a conclusion that the language is ambiguous.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Mettler v. Mettler, 165 Conn.App. 829, 836-37, 140 A.3d 370 (2016).

         A

         The plaintiff claims that the court improperly granted the defendant's May 9, 2017 motion for contempt when it held him in contempt for violating the stipulation by failing to make arrangements for the children when he could not be with them during his scheduled parenting time. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that the court's holding was improper because the stipulation is ambiguous and there was no evidence that his violation was wilful. We disagree.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this claim on appeal. Before approving the stipulation and making it an order, the court canvassed the parties about what they meant in paragraph 4.2, which states: ‘‘If the custodial parent cannot be with the children, it is the custodial parent's responsibility to make arrangements for the children unless the noncustodial parent agrees in writing to take the children.'' The court stated: ‘‘So, when I read this paragraph, I read [it] to be [that] if the custodial parent cannot be with the children-let's say . . . the custodial parent is going to be absent for one night or however many nights, it is the custodial parent's responsibility to make arrangements for the children unless the noncustodial parent agrees in writing to take the children. If the noncustodial parent agrees to take the children, that's terrific. . . . [I]f [the plaintiff] is traveling and [the defendant] says of course they can stay overnight and that's acceptable, I have no problem with that . . . and likewise, on the other side, if that is not an option, the children must stay with an adult. The custodial parent's responsibility is to find an adult to take care of those kids.''

         Additionally, the following colloquy occurred between the court and the plaintiff about paragraph 4.2:

‘‘The Court: I think that given the context, if you and your wife want to take an overnight somewhere and it would be your night to have the kids, you know, I'm sure [the defendant] would take them. If they're not about to do that, you've got to find-
‘‘[The Plaintiff]: Right.
‘‘The Court: And vice ...

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