Officially released February 26, 2019.
In Short: (1) the trial court’s authority to enter remedial orders is broad, and (2) laches is highly unlikely to serve as an effective defense to paying a support arrearage.
Husband appealed the trial court’s rulings on multiple post-judgment motions. The parties were divorced pursuant to a separation agreement in 2007. The separation agreement provided, in relevant part, that Husband would pay $10,000 per month unallocated alimony and support. As an additional element of support, Husband was to purchase a home for Wife, in which she could reside for a specified period of time. The trial court retained jurisdiction regarding post-secondary education.
Wife filed a post-judgment motion for contempt claiming Husband was in arrears on his unallocated support obligation. Husband filed an objection and a motion for enforcement of multiple provisions of the judgment, claiming that Wife overstayed her allotted duration in the residence, preventing him from obtaining rental income or a home equity line of credit on the property. The parties stipulated for the trial court that Wife had resided past the date she was ordered to vacate, that Husband was in arrears on his support obligation by more than $100,000, and that Husband had paid three years’ room and board for one of the parties’ children at college. Husband testified that the parties had reached an oral agreement to modify the orders. Wife testified that Husband had proposed and directed many different “agreements” and she gave up relying on them. Wife further testified that she did not have the funds to move into an apartment without payment of the arrearage.
The trial court found insufficient evidence to determine the terms of the alleged prior oral agreement between the parties. The trial court granted relief on Wife’s motion for contempt in the form of a payment order but did not find Husband’s actions willful and did not hold him in contempt. As to Husband’s motions, the trial court did not find Wife’s overstaying in the residence to be willful and ordered Wife to vacate the property within 90 days of receiving payment in full for Husband’s arrearage.
On appeal, Husband first claimed that the court erred by entering the remedial order that Wife remain in the residence until the arrearage is satisfied, in light of the effect of the use of such residence. The Appellate Court noted that the trial court has broad discretion to enter remedial orders in the absence of a contempt finding. Pressley v. Johnson, 173 Conn. App. 402, 408, 162 A.3d 751 (2017). Appellate review of the broad discretion is governed by the clearly erroneous standard of review. The Appellate Court found that the parties had unambiguously linked the monetary and residential forms of support, thus, the trial court did not err in fashioning a remedial order that also linked the two forms. Further, the Appellate Court found that the evidence supported the remedial order.
Second, Husband claimed that the trial court erred in failing to find that Wife should be barred from pursuing the arrearage based on laches. Husband argued that there was evidence of inexcusable delay. He further argued he was prejudiced by his reliance on oral agreement, based on which he did not file a motion to modify and assumed college costs that he was not under order to cover. The Appellate Court stated the constituent part of a laches claim: 1) delay that was inexcusable, and 2) prejudice to the other party. Cifaldi v. Cifaldi, 118 Conn. App. 325, 334-35, 983 A.2d 293 (2009). The burden is on the party claiming laches and the standard of review is clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court found nothing in the record to support the claim of prejudice, noting that there was evidence that both parties contributed to the college costs and that the trial court found insufficient evidence to prove an agreement existed. The Appellate Court further found that Husband’s decision not to file a motion to modify was “occasioned by his own decision to engage in self-help by entering into an alleged oral agreement …”
The Judgment was affirmed.