Walker v. Walker, ___ Conn. App. ___ (2023) (consideration of fault was not abuse of discretion; trial court considered all statutory criteria)
Officially released October 31, 2023
In Short: the trial court did not err in considering all the statutory criteria, including fault, in entering its financial orders, nor was there evidence that the trial court abused its discretion in its consideration and analysis of fault.
The parties married in 1993 and had three children, all of whom were adults by the time of the divorce. The matter was tried before Judge Moukawsher.
The trial court found the following facts: Wife was fifty and Husband sixty years old. The parties resided in a home purchased for Wife by her father, of which Wife owned 74.5% and Husband owned 25.5%. The parties remortgaged the marital home and used the proceeds to purchase Husband’s sister’s interest in an inherited building and family business, a custom frame shop. A major cause of the breakdown of the marriage was Husband’s violence toward Wife and Husband’s extramarital affairs. Wife had no job skills outside of her work at Husband’s family business and limited work in retail. Husband’s annual business income is approximately $100,000.
The trial court awarded the marital home to Wife, which was worth $800,000 and had a mortgage of $440,000. The trial court awarded the custom frame shop and building to Husband, which was worth $600,000, had no mortgage, and had rental income and potential for more. Husband was ordered to pay Wife $235,000, the amount by which the marital home had been encumbered to purchase Husband’s sister’s interest in the building. (For those who want the quick math, Wife was awarded net value of $595,000 and Husband $365,000 per the trial court’s findings). Husband was ordered to pay $1,000 per month alimony for ten years (one third of the length of the marriage, but continuing until Husband turns 70). Both parties were awarded the extent of their respective interests that were received from family or inheritance.
Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court (1) improperly failed to consider all the relevant statutory criteria set forth in § 46b-81, and (2) applied an unreasonable amount of weight to Husband’s fault in the breakdown of the marriage in fashioning awards of property division and alimony. (Husband abandoned claims initially raised on appeal regarding double-dipping, third party testimony weight, and restriction of time allocated for trial).
As to Husband’s first claim, the trial court expressly stated that it “considered all” of the statutory criteria of § 46b-81. The Appellate Court held that the trial court was therefore presumed to have done so unless contradicted by the record, and nothing contrary appears in the record. The Appellate Court found that the trial court provided a well-reasoned analysis for the disparity in awards which was based on the facts, including origin of the assets, contributions of the parties, and needs of the parties.
Husband argued on his second claim that, due to the fact that the dissolution was based on the ground of irretrievable breakdown rather than intolerable cruelty (which ground was also alleged in the amended complaint) the trial court assigned his fault disproportionate weight. The Appellate Court noted the trial court’s findings that Husband was more unfaithful and more violent than Wife, that Husband admitted his violence, and that Husband was deemed less credible. The Appellate Court also noted the trial court’s emphasis on the financial circumstances of the parties in fashioning its award. The Appellate Court found it unnecessary to discern precisely how much weight the trial court placed on fault, as it was one factor among all of them and the trial court is afforded wide latitude. Dissolution based on irretrievable breakdown is not inconsistent with analysis of the cause for the breakdown as mandated by statute.
The Judgment was affirmed.