Officially released June 25, 2019.
In Short: When your client is awarded transfer of property, effectuate it quickly, and file a motion to open with 120 days if necessary; a motion for clarification cannot result in modification of the order.
The parties were divorced in 2015. The trial court did not credit the testimony or financial affidavit of Husband that he only owned 50% of a specific parcel of property, but did not make a finding that he owned 100% of that property. The trial court ordered, inter alia, that Husband quitclaim his interests in a parcel of real property to Wife.
Husband signed a quitclaim deed and assigned his rights to Wife. Wife determined that Husband only owned 50% of the property. Wife filed a motion for clarification seeking to determine if the court intended Husband to make arrangements so that 100% of the property was transferred to her or if the court intended to award her only 50% of the property. Without the motion for clarification being calendared, the court entered an order granting the motion for clarification and declared that its intention was that Wife receive all interest in the property, ordering Husband to make whatever arrangements were necessary to transfer all interest in the property. Husband appealed, claiming that the court modified the dissolution judgment when it entered its clarification order.
The Appellate Court noted that, beyond the four-month time frame set forth in Practice Book § 17-4, when an ambiguity in the language of a judgment as arisen as a result of post-judgment events, the trial court may effectuate its judgment by interpreting the ambiguous judgment. It may not, however, use clarification to modify or alter substantive terms. The construction of a judgment presents a question of law subject to plenary review. However, substantial deference is accorded a court’s interpretation of its own order, and such clarification will not be disturbed unless the interpretation is manifestly unreasonable. Bauer v. Bauer, 308 Conn. 124, 129-32 (2013).
The Appellate Court held that the order here was to take a specific action, to quitclaim his interest and assign that interest to Wife. Ordering Husband to take whatever measures necessary so that Wife would acquire a 100% interest was a modification of the underlying judgment, not a clarification. It could not be effectuated merely by execution of a quitclaim deed. Not crediting Husband’s testimony that he only owned 50% of the property was not the same as making a finding that he owned 100% of the property.
The judgment was reversed and remanded with direction to deny the motion for clarification.