Riccio v. Riccio, 183 Conn. App. 823 (2018) (unequal asset division; methods for valuation of pensions; double dipping).
Officially released July 31, 2018.
Short version: the trial court may divide assets unequally, has discretion to choose among the three widely approved methods of valuing and distributing pensions, and it is only double dipping if the trial court considers income from an asset awarded to the payee as a source of income from which the payor may make alimony payments.
The parties’ nearly forty-year marriage was dissolved after a five-day trial in May of 2017. The trial court found that Plaintiff Husband was primarily at fault for the breakdown of the marriage and modestly favored Wife in the division of property. The trial court awarded rehabilitative alimony to be paid to Husband for a period of eighteen months and ordered that Wife transfer $48,750 from her 401(k) to Husband to account for the disparity in value of the parties’ respective defined benefit pension plans, only one of which was in pay status.
Plaintiff Husband appealed on the basis that (1) the trial court abused its discretion in entering a property order that was unequal in favor of Defendant Wife, (2) improperly applied the present division method for valuation of the parties’ defined benefit pension plans, and (3) treatment of the pay-status and non-pay-status pensions improperly constituted “double-dipping” by considering his pension in the award of alimony.
The Appellate Court held that unequal property division in monetary terms is not inequitable solely on the basis of its inequality. The Court cited O’Brien v. O’Brien, 326 Conn. 81, 122, 161 A.3d 1236 (2017) in support of this principle, noting “we have upheld distributions awarding as much as 90 percent of the marital estate to one party.”
The Appellate Court quoted Krafick v. Krafick, 234 Conn. 783, 800, 663 A.2d 365 (1995) for the principal that “[t]here are three widely approved methods of valuing and distributing pension benefits—the present value method, the present division method, and the reserved jurisdiction method.” The trial court is within its discretion to decide, on a case-by-case basis, the appropriate valuation method. Bender v. Bender, 258 Conn. 733, 760, 785 A.2d 197 (2001). The Appellate Court held that the fact that Husband’s pension was in pay status did not necessitate the trial court’s selection of the present value method.
The Appellate Court cited O’Brien and Krafick in reiterating the existing law 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….” A trial court is within its discretion to award an asset to Husband in the distribution of property and consider the income stream from that asset as a source for alimony payments.