Officially released September 3, 2019.
In Short: the parties’ separation agreement called for termination of alimony upon cohabitation and defined the cohabitation itself based on the definition in § 46b-86, while specifying the only available remedy to such cohabitation as termination of alimony. The contract was clear and unambiguous, the facts supported a finding of cohabitation, and the correct remedy was retroactive termination of alimony.
The Facts: The parties’ twenty-four-year marriage was dissolved in 2009 via separation agreement. The agreement provided for payment of alimony by Husband until, inter alia, Wife’s “living with another person.” The agreement further specified that Husband’s obligation to pay alimony “shall terminate on the date … the [c]ourt determines [Wife] commenced ‘living with another person.’… For purposes of this Agreement, [Wife] shall be deemed to have been ‘living with another person’ in the event a court of competent jurisdiction makes a finding that alimony should terminate or be reduced pursuant to the provisions of § 46b-86b.”
In March of 2017 Husband filed a motion to terminate alimony, determine overpayments and set a repayment schedule. Husband’s motion alleged that, while Wife had maintained her own home, she had been living with her boyfriend within the meaning of § 46b-86 since 2013 such that her financial needs had been altered. Wife’s boyfriend testified that they spent 3-4 nights per week at each other’s houses, paid more than half of their meals when they eat out, that Wife maintained an art studio rent-free at the boyfriend’s home, and, since 2015, Wife had been added to the boyfriend’s health insurance as a “domestic partner.”
The trial court issued a decision on October 2017 finding that since “at least January, 2015, the parties have been living together, and that the arrangement has altered the financial needs of [Wife] within the meaning of General Statutes § 46b-86.” The court terminated Husband’s alimony obligation retroactively and set a schedule to repay $358,216.
The First Issue on Appeal was whether the court erred in finding that Wife lived with her boyfriend within the meaning of § 46b-86(b) where they maintained separate residences and were apart a significant portion of time and that the court improperly relied on the health insurance coverage in its findings. The standard of review regarding the fact specific determination was the clearly erroneous standard. The Appellate Court concluded that there was ample evidence to support the trial court’s determination and there was no error in considering the health insurance coverage.
The Second Issue on Appeal was whether the trial court improperly concluded that the only remedy available under the terms of the separation agreement was termination. Separation agreements are construed as contracts. Where a contract is clear and unambiguous within its four corners the determination is a question of law subject to plenary review. The Appellate Court found the terms of the separation agreement clear and unambiguous. It did not agree with Wife’s assertion that the use of the words “pursuant to” necessarily incorporated all aspects of § 46b-86(b) in the context of this agreement.
The Judgment was affirmed.