Officially released May 26, 2020.
In Short: the trial court may distribute real property in probate where the estate is not settled; a party’s failure to value his/her own property will not permit that party to induce error in the court’s failure to assign a value and the trial court is not required to assign values; the trial court may divide extracurricular costs when asked to do so.
The parties married and had one child. During the course of the marriage, Husband and his brother (“Brother”) jointly purchased and mortgaged two properties: the parties’ marital residence (99% owned by Husband and 1% owned by Brother) and Brother’s residence (99% owned by Brother and 1% owned by Husband). Brother died and devised his interest in both properties to Husband. Brother’s wife challenged Brother’s will. Wife then filed for divorce.
At time of dissolution, Brother’s wife had withdrawn her challenge to Brother’s will, but Brother’s estate was insolvent and had not yet been settled. Nevertheless, Husband’s testimony at trial was that he had inherited his Brother’s interest in the properties. The trial court found that the parties had stipulated to facts providing equity of $142,079 in the marital residence. Husband’s financial affidavit stated that Brother’s residence had equity of $167k as of 2014.
In 2016, after a twenty-day trial, the trial court ordered Husband to transfer all of his interest in the marital residence to Wife and awarded Brother’s residence to Husband. The trial court awarded certain personal property but ordered that they divide certain furnishings to their mutual satisfaction. The trial court ordered that the parties divide extracurricular expenses for the child 53%-47%.
Husband appealed. The trial court articulated that it relied on Husband’s testimony that he had inherited Brother’s interests in both properties and that the will contest was resolved. Upon the Appellate Court’s order, the trial court further articulated that it relied on Husband’s financial affidavit to place that assigned value on Brother’s residence.
Husband first argued on appeal that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the property it awarded to Wife and that it lacked the authority to order it transferred. The Appellate Court held that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over both properties pursuant to § 46b-1(c) and 46b-81.
Although Husband testified at trial that he inherited Brother’s 1% interest in the marital residence, on appeal he argued that because the estate was not yet settled, it had not been valued nor been distributed to him. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion in ordering Husband to transfer all of his interest in the marital residence.
Husband argued that the orders distributing the real property were a mistake and impossible to execute. The Appellate Court disagreed, holding that the trial court’s finding that Husband was the sole owner of the properties was not clearly erroneous, and the fact that the estate was not settled and might be insolvent was of no consequence.
Husband argued that the court abused its discretion by equitably distributing property without properly determining its value. The Appellate Court noted the trial court is not required to assign specific values to the parties’ assets. Further, failure to list the value of an asset precludes a party from later seeking to overturn an order on the basis of lack of information about that asset.
Husband argued that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to divide all the parties’ personal property. The Appellate Court agreed that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering the parties to divide certain personal property themselves. However, it found that the value of such property was insubstantial enough that this issue was severable from the mosaic of financial orders and reversed and remanded was to this discrete issue only.
Husband argued that the trial court abused its discretion because the financial orders were excessive and he lacked the ability to comply, focusing on an order the he pay expenses on the marital residence until he transferred his interest. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion.
Husband argued that the trial court’s order that he pay 53% of the child’s extracurricular expenses, to be agreed upon in advance and in writing, constituted abuse of discretion, arguing a lack of evidentiary support and upper limit. The Appellate Court found that Husband had failed to establish that this order constituted abuse of discretion. It noted that the order was silent as to what occurs if Husband disagrees with the expense, that there was no evidence that the cost was unreasonable (at trial the cost was listed on Wife’s financial affidavit at $1.00 per week), and that it could be modified in future.
The matter was remanded solely to divide certain items of personal property.