Officially released May 21, 2019. REVERSED April 27, 2021
In Short: The trial court cannot enter orders that would deprive the payor of alimony of the source of their income and enter an alimony award based on that source of income; there is no requirement that an asset be 100% transferred to the payee to constitute double-dipping in relying on that asset for alimony; the award of lifetime $18,000 per month alimony non-modifiable as to term and amount was abuse of discretion.
The Facts: The parties were married thirty years and had three adult children. The dissolution case was tried over nine days and 199 exhibits in 2017. Husband was fifty-eight and self-employed. Wife was fifty-five and had been out of the workforce for thirty years, but did not testify that she was incapable of working. Husband was self-represented at time of trial. The primary assets of the marriage were Husband’s two businesses. The trial court valued the businesses at $904,000, found Husband’s annual income from the business to be $550,000, and found Husband at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
The trial court awarded lifetime periodic alimony to Wife in the amount of $18,000 per month until death, remarriage, cohabitation or civil union, non-modifiable as to duration and amount. Husband was ordered, inter alia, to pay $221,677 to Wife for 100% of the net equity in the home if all mortgages had been paid when they were due, $452,000 to Wife for half the value of the businesses, $223,398 for all Wife’s legal, expert and professional fees, and to be responsible for various other debts. The trial court clarified post-judgment that the finding of Husband’s income was not his earning capacity if he were to find other employment, but his actual gross earnings via his businesses.
The First Issue on Appeal was whether the trial court improperly double dipped in counting a marital asset for purpose of property division and spousal support awards. Wife relied on O’Brien v. O’Brien, 326 Conn. 81, 120 (2017) for the proposition that “A trial court’s alimony award constitutes impermissible double dipping only if the court considers, as a source of the alimony payments, assets distributed to the party receiving the alimony.” The Appellate Court Held that an actual conveyance of the interest in the income producing asset to the party receiving alimony is not required to constitute impermissible double dipping “if the paying party in practical effect has been deprived of the value of that asset.” Here, the gross income of $550,000 was included in the fair market value of the businesses. There was no practical means for Husband to meet his obligations and retain the business which was the source of his income.
The Second Issue on Appeal was whether the court abused its discretion in failing to make equitable orders. Husband argued that Wife was awarded the entire marital estate, Husband was ordered responsible for all marital debts. The Appellate Court Held that it was abuse of discretion because the order deprived Husband of the means of compliance and that lifetime alimony was not supported by the facts found by the trial court.
The Judgment was reversed with respect to financial orders and remanded for a new hearing.