Onyilogwu v. Onyilogwu 217 Conn. App. 647 (2023) (alimony, abuse of discretion & temporary pandemic benefits)
Officially released February 21, 2023
In Short: The trial court abused its discretion in considering a temporary increase in income to Husband due to pandemic assistance as income to support a ten-year alimony award. This is a rare abuse of discretion reversal.
The parties were married in Nigeria in 2010 and had no children. Husband filed for divorce in 2019 and a one-day remote trial was held in 2021. The trial court found that Husband’s adulterous behavior and mismanagement of household expenses had caused the breakdown of the marriage. Wife had a bachelor’s in chemistry and a master’s in business administration and had worked as a substitute teacher and caregiver companion. Husband was a banker and financial advisor and was self-employed.
The trial court found that Husband earned negative net income between 2016 and 2018, although he was able to support Wife while she attained an education, and that Husband had been earning in the range of $3,000-7,000/month. The trial court ordered Husband to pay $1,500 per month in alimony for ten years or to make a lump sum payment of $120,000 by November 26, 2021. Husband appealed. The trial court articulated that it considered, as income, funds that Husband received as temporary pandemic assistance of about $16k.
On appeal, Husband argued that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to pay $1,500/month for ten years because the award was excessive and improperly included his temporary pandemic unemployment assistance. Husband argued that the $1,400/month he received in such temporary assistance was foreseeably temporary.
The Appellate Court reviewed the claim under the abuse of discretion standard. The Appellate Court found that the temporary pandemic assistance lacked sufficient regularity to be considered for purposes of a ten-year alimony award. They did not replace income that Husband previously had, but increased his total deposits in a way that represented a temporary bump while no finding was made as to earning capacity. The benefits were foreseeably temporary. The Appellate Court found that, without such benefits, the $1,500/month alimony award would consume most of Husband’s income, contrary to the principal that ability to pay is a material consideration.
The Appellate Court found that, under the mosaic doctrine, the matter needed be remanded for a new trial as to all financial orders.
Reversed and remanded as to all financial orders.