Bouffard v. Lewis, 203 Conn. App. 116 (2021) (stay of payment of child support and alimony arrearage and contempt penalties pending appeal)
Officially released March 9, 2021
In Short: The automatic stay pending appeal does not apply to payment of periodic alimony and support arrearages nor contempt penalties, even when the enforcement of the period alimony and support is ordered as a lump sum.
The parties were divorced pursuant to separation agreement in 2017. Husband was to make monthly payments of $4,729 as alimony for seven years and $1,398 as child support until the child turned twenty-one. Husband was to make further annual unallocated support payments equal to 30% of gross income exceeding $175,000 per year.
In 2019 Husband filed post-judgment motions to modify child support and alimony, alleging a substantial decrease in his income. Wife filed a motion for contempt regarding non-payment of child support and alimony as well as unallocated support based on 2018 income. The Trial Court denied Husband’s motion for modification and found that he had an arrearage of $8,684 in child support, $37,832 in alimony, and $82,397 in unallocated support from 2018 income. The Trial Court further awarded Wife $13,500 in counsel fees for the contempt. Husband was ordered to pay outstanding sum within 60 days, with part of it due within 30 days. Husband appealed.
Wife filed an additional motion for contempt on the basis of Husband’s failure to abide by the contempt orders and to remain current with the preexisting orders. The Trial Court determined that Husband’s obligations from the contempt hearing were stayed pending appeal pursuant to Practice Book § 61-11(c). Wife filed a timely motion for review pursuant to Practice Book §§ 61-14 and 66-6 arguing that the automatic stay did not apply because alimony and child support arrearages are not subject to the stay and orders of civil contempt and penalties are not subject to the stay.
The Appellate Court held that the automatic stay does not apply to child support, alimony and civil penalties based on the plain language of the Practice Book. ‘‘Unless otherwise ordered, no automatic stay shall apply . . . to orders of periodic alimony, support, custody or visitation in family matters.” Husband did not move for a stay, but simply argued that “lump sum payments” are stayed pending appeal. The Appellate Court distinguished Lowe v. Lowe, 58 Conn. App. 805, 816 (2000) wherein the court entered a new lump sum order after vacating the original judgment, rather than finding an arrearage of an existing order. The Trial Court here ordered that the arrearage on an existing order be paid in lump sum fashion, but it was not a new lump sum order and was therefore not governed by the automatic stay under § 61-11(c).
The motion for review was granted and the Trial Court’s order finding applicability of the automatic stay was vacated.