Officially released July 21, 2020.
In Short: the trial court was within its discretion to deny a motion for modification of support based on a lack of change in circumstances, even where the change in guidelines exceeds 15%, where no finding had previously been made as to the presumptive amount of support; if you enter into a stipulation allocating a previously unallocated support order, you should address all aspects of the alimony and child support simultaneously.
The parties were divorced by separation agreement which provided that Husband was to pay, as unallocated support, a percentage of his gross annual compensation in any calendar year, to terminate upon remarriage of Wife. Wife remarried in August 2015, automatically terminating Husband’s unallocated support. Wife filed a post-judgment motion seeking to “fix” the child support based on termination of unallocated support, and in June of 2016 the parties stipulated to a child support award, retroactive to August 2015.
Thereafter, Husband filed two post-judgment motions, seeking reimbursement of his unallocated payments to prorate his payments for 2015, the year that Wife remarried, and seeking modification of child support based on subsequent loss of employment.
The trial court granted Husband’s motion to prorate the unallocated support and ordered Wife to repay some $80,000.
The trial court had found that Husband’s employment, with a base salary of $400,000, had been terminated in January of 2017, and that he obtained new employment in August of 2017 at a base salary of $250,000. However, the trial court found that no substantial change had occurred between June of 2016 when the child support number was established, and September of 2018 when it adjudicated the motion. Husband had been able to maintain his lifestyle, net worth, and in totality, had failed to establish a threshold of substantial change under § 46b-86(a). The trial court denied Husband’s motion to modify support.
Wife appealed from the trial court’s order requiring her to reimburse Husband a certain prorated portion of unallocated support she received in the year she remarried. Husband cross-appealed the denial of his motion to modify support.
Review of an unambiguous contract is plenary. The Appellate Court held that the trial erred by improperly modifying the separation agreement in granting Husband’s motion for reimbursement. There was nothing on the record to indicate that the parties intended to prorate the unallocated support for only seven months of 2015. When the parties set forth a retroactive child support number they did not prorate or adjust at that time. The absence of a term does not make a contract incomplete.
The Appellate Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Husband’s motion to modify child support under § 46b-86, based on a lack of change in circumstances. Notwithstanding the fact that Husband’s decrease in income surpassed the rebuttable presumption of a 15 percent deviation from the child support guidelines, no prior judge had made a finding as to the presumptive support under the guidelines. The orders, instead, had hewed to the agreements of the parties based on overall financial circumstances, allowing for the rebuttal of the presumption. The basis for Husband’s motion was loss of income, not deviation from the guidelines.