“Cause for the breakdown” does not equal “intolerable cruelty”; the trial court has discretion regarding alimony: Buchenholz. v. Buchenholz. 221 Conn. App. 132 (2023)
Buchenholz. v. Buchenholz. 221 Conn. App. 132 (2023) (“cause for the breakdown” does not equal “intolerable cruelty”; the trial court has discretion regarding alimony)
Officially released August 15, 2023
In Short: (1) a creative (but not particularly compelling) argument to construe testimony and findings about the cause for the breakdown of the marriage as modification of the complaint to “intolerable cruelty” and an ambush violating due process was unsuccessful on appeal; and (2) the trial court is not bound by half the length of the marriage for alimony awards and has substantial discretion to make factual findings, consider the statutory criteria, and enter such orders as it sees fit.
The parties were married in 2006 and had no children. Wife initiated the divorce with a complaint based on irretrievable breakdown. The case was tried over five days over six months in 2021, with testimony of both parties and several exhibits.
The trial court issued a memorandum of decision dissolving the marriage based on irretrievable breakdown. The trial court found Wife’s testimony credible as to several incidents of violent sexual intercourse and other sexual assault as well as physical abuse and other malfeasance. The trial court found that Husband was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. The trial court explicitly amended the complaint to conform to the extensive proof of Husband’s fault (but did not mention “intolerable cruelty”). The trial court awarded Wife $425 per week in alimony for nine years. Husband appealed.
Husband’s first claim on appeal was that (1) the trial court abused its discretion by purportedly amending Wife’s complaint to allege intolerable cruelty, and (2) Husband did not receive adequate notice that testimony would be submitted to support that ground, and thus his due process rights were violated.
The Appellate Court applied plenary review to interpretation of the trial court’s judgment (rather than abuse of discretion review to amendment of a pleading). The Appellate Court found nothing to support Husband’s claim that the trial court amended the complaint to allege intolerable cruelty. The Appellate Court read the trial court’s language as a recognition of the evidence of fault in the context of irretrievable breakdown.
The Appellate Court applied plenary review over Husband’s due process claim. The Appellate Court reiterated that nothing in the record supported a claim that the allegation of intolerable cruelty was made, only evidence regarding cause for the breakdown of the marriage (fault). The Appellate Court found that the time for discovery was adequate, no objection was made to Wife’s testimony of abuse on the first day of trial, and no effort was made for continuance or discovery over the six months thereafter during which the trial concluded.
Husband’s second claim was that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding alimony of $425/week for nine years, by failing to credit his testimony, leaving him a lower percentage of net income and providing a duration that exceeds half the length of the marriage. The trial court had concluded, inter alia, that Husband’s testimony regarding his finances was not credible, made factual findings as to the parties’ health and incomes, and imputed an earning capacity to both parties. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion.
The Judgment was affirmed.