Officially released November 10, 2020.
In Short: (1) Don’t ghost your lawyer during trial, (2) trial courts have substantial discretion regarding continuance motions, (3) plenary review applies to claims of unconscionability of a prenuptial agreement, (4) a substantial injury may constitute an unforeseen circumstance for unconscionability, and (5) failure to submit a financial affidavit (or to value property on it) will prevent you from challenging the trial court’s determination of value of assets.
The parties were married in 2003 and executed a prenuptial agreement on the day of the wedding which provided an alimony waiver of both parties in the event of divorce. Both parties completed financial affidavits in connection with the prenuptial agreement. Husband’s affidavit disclosed interests in two real properties in the Bahamas valued at $40,000 and $60,000. Wife had consulted with counsel prior to signing.
During the course of the marriage the parties had two minor children. Wife suffered a mild traumatic brain injury due to a car crash and was unable to return to teaching. At time of trial she was employed part-time in a clerical capacity for a relative’s business. A neurological report was submitted into evidence regarding Wife’s health.
The case was originally scheduled to be tried in March of 2018 but was continued due to illness of counsel. It was continued a second time in August of 2018 because of the lack of availability of a judge. Thereafter, Husband filed a motion for continuance of the trial indicating that he could not miss any more days of work as a high school counselor, which was denied by the trial court on the papers. The matter had been pending over two years at time of trial.
The parties had a three-day trial at the regional family trial docket with both parties represented by counsel. Husband did not appear at trial and his attorney was unable to reach him despite multiple attempts. Husband did not submit a financial affidavit at time of trial. The trial court issued a forty-four-page memorandum of decision ordering sole custody to Wife, declaring the prenuptial agreement unconscionable and awarding alimony payments to Wife, and awarding the Bahamian properties to Husband. Husband appealed.
Husband’s first claim was that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance of trial. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion. Although the prior delays were outside of the parties’ control, the long delay in the pendency of the case, particularly in light of the custody matters, was a proper factor to consider and Husband’s claim regarding his work was unsubstantiated. The case was over 1,000 days old at time of trial.
Husband’s second claim was that the court erred by holding that enforcement of the prenuptial agreement would be unconscionable and awarding alimony to Wife. The trial court had concluded that, in light of the injuries Wife suffered in the accident, this created a scenario “far beyond the contemplation of the parties when they executed the [agreement].” Husband argued that he was not able to provide testimony of Wife’s capabilities and employability and that the trial court relied on Wife’s current employment without evidence of limitations on her earning capacity. Wife argued that Husband’s failure to appear at trial was the reason he was unable to provide evidence and that the evidence supported the finding. The Appellate Court noted the legal standard from C.G.S. § 43-36a governing enforcement of prenuptial agreements, and that the determination as to unconscionability is a matter of law, not a question of fact, subject to plenary review. The Appellate Court found Husband’s absence from trial to be his own fault. It also found that there was sufficient evidence in the record, including a neurological report, to support the trial court’s finding that Wife’s injuries had reduced her earning capacity, and thus, the finding that enforcement of the prenuptial agreement would be unconscionable.
Husband’s third and final claim was that the trial court improperly awarded him the two pieces of Bahamian real estate, which he claims he did not own. In addition to the disclosures with the prenuptial agreement, Wife also produced two letters from the Bahamian taxing authority mailed to a relative on Husband’s behalf. Husband produced no evidence to demonstrate that he had been divested of ownership. The Appellate Court found no error in the trial court’s findings based on the evidence presented. Husband’s failure to provide a financial affidavit prevented him from challenging the values placed on those properties.
The Judgment was affirmed.