Officially released October 23, 2018.
In short: (1) Factual findings in an arbitration award that is accepted by the court are not binding on the court for purposes of determination of child support, (2) the trial court has discretion to order that arrearages be paid by lump sum where the court finds that the payor has the ability to pay the lump sum.
The parties were divorced in October 2015. The judgment incorporated an arbitration award that resolved most financial matters, excepting custody and child support. The arbitration agreement, incorporated into the Judgment, determined that Husband had gross annual income of $400,000. Per agreement of the parties, the trial court thereafter held a post-judgment evidentiary hearing as to child support, which was retroactive to date of judgment by agreement. Both parties entered evidence as to Husband’s income. The trial court found that Husband had gross annual income of $560,637, inclusive of income from employment of $400,000 and rental income of $160,637. The trial court credited Husband his prior voluntary post-judgment support in the form of a credit against current support. The trial court did not specify a deadline for payment of the $91,000 child support arrearage.
Wife filed a motion for contempt for non-payment of the child support arrearage. The trial court did not find Husband in contempt, but entered remedial orders requiring Husband to make a $91,000 lump sum child support payment to satisfy the arrearage within approximately four months.
Husband filed appeals as to both the child support order and the orders entered with regard to the post-judgment motion for contempt, which were consolidated on appeal. The Appellate Court identified eight issues, reviewed each in turn, and affirmed the judgment in full.
Issue 1: Whether the arbitrator’s factual findings regarding gross income, made in the context of financial orders other than child support, are binding on the trial court when determining child support. Husband argued that the trial court’s finding that his annual gross income was $560,637 was inconsistent with the arbitrator’s award and therefore clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court noted that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-408 excludes “issues related to child support” from arbitration. The Appellate Court exercised plenary review over statutory interpretation. The Appellate Court found the exclusion in the statute was broad and unqualified and did not distinguish factual and legal issues. The Appellate Court went so far as to suggest that reliance by the trial court on the income findings of the arbitrator for purposes of child support “would constitute an impermissible delegation of judicial authority…”
Issue 2: Whether the trial court’s finding that Husband had gross annual income from employment of $400,000 was clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court found that there was evidence to support the trial court’s finding and it was, therefore, not clearly erroneous.
Issue 3: Whether it was improper to include, for purposes of child support, rental income received from property divided in the dissolution and whether the court improperly arrived at its findings. The Appellate Court determined that the calculation and inclusion of rental income was not clearly erroneous. There was evidence to support the trial court’s factual findings and the guidelines include rental income.
Issue 4: Whether the trial court erred in failing to account for Husband’s payment of life insurance premiums in calculating gross income. The Appellate Court found that Husband had filed to provide evidence as to the breakdown of his premiums between what was required by the court to secure child support and other policies maintained for other purposes. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
Issue 5: Whether the trial court erred in not articulating its basis for exceeding the child support guidelines’ presumptive minimum. The parties’ combined net weekly income exceeded $4,000. Pursuant to Maturo v. Maturo, 296 Conn. 80, 995 A.2d 1 (2010) and Misthopoulos v. Mithopoulos, 297 Conn. 358, 999 A.2d 721 (2010), the trial court entered a child support order in an amount between the presumptive minimum and maximum. The Appellate Court exercised plenary review over this question of law and concluded that there was no requirement for the trial court to articulate the basis for its award where it was within the range established by the guidelines.
Issue 6: Whether the trial court erred in addressing Husband’s prior voluntary payments by providing Husband a credit against current support rather than deducting that amount from his arrearage. The Appellate Court found this argument was moot as Husband had already received his entire credit and did not dispute the amount of the credit.
Issue 7: Whether the trial court improperly ordered a lump sum payment for the child support arrearage instead of permitting a weekly repayment, as contemplated in the child support arrearage guidelines. The Appellate Court applied plenary review over this question of law. The Appellate Court found the preamble to the child support guidelines to be persuasive. “The commission interprets the statute to apply only to the determination of periodic payments, and so does not address in the regulations the determination of lump sum payments, which determination remains subject to the discretion of the judge or family support magistrate.” Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines (2015) preamble, § (i), p. xix. The Appellate Court noted further that the regulations themselves provide that the arrearage guidelines “shall be used to determine periodic payments on child support arrearages …. The determination of lump sum payments remains subject to the discretion of the judge… in accordance with existing law.” Conn. Agencies Regs. § 46b-215a-3a. The trial court determined that Husband had the ability to pay the lump sum and therefore the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the $91,000 lump sum payment.
Issue 8: whether the trial court erred in failing to dismiss Wife’s motion for contempt rather than denying the motion on the merits and entering remedial orders. Husband argued that Wife’s motion for contempt failed to state a proper claim for failure to comply with Conn. Practice Book. § 25-27. The Appellate Court determined that Husband failed to preserve this issue for appeal as Husband argued at the time that it should be denied and challenged the merits of the motion.