Loughlin v. Loughlin

Decision Date07 February 2006
Docket NumberNo. 25611.,25611.
Citation93 Conn.App. 618,889 A.2d 902
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesSharon LOUGHLIN v. William LOUGHLIN, Jr.

William F. Gallagher, Syracuse, NY, with whom, on the brief, were Hugh D. Hughes and Jacqueline F. Barbara, Shelton, for the appellant (defendant).

Jeffrey D. Ginzberg, Seymour, for the appellee (defendant).

LAVERY, C.J., and GRUENDEL and PETERS, Js.

LAVERY, C.J.

The defendant, William Loughlin, Jr., appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to the plaintiff, Sharon Loughlin, and claims that certain of the court's financial orders were improper. He argues that the court improperly (1) relied on the length of the parties' entire relationship, rather than that of the marriage at issue,1 in violation of General Statutes §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82, (2) considered the needs of the parties' adult children and a grandchild when fashioning its award of alimony to the plaintiff, and (3) ordered that the defendant pay a portion of the plaintiff's attorney's fees. We agree that the court relied on improper considerations in crafting its financial orders and, accordingly, reverse the judgment.2

The following facts and procedural history are relevant. The parties initially were married from 1981 to 1992. Their three children were born during that marriage.3 Within a year or so of the 1992 divorce, the parties resumed cohabitating. In 1998, they remarried. The judgment of dissolution that is the subject of this appeal was rendered in 2004. At that time, the parties' children were twenty-two, twenty and sixteen years old. The middle child, who was unmarried, recently had become a mother.

During the period of time that the parties were cohabitating but unmarried, the plaintiff attended nursing school, receiving an associate's degree in 1996. Thereafter, she worked in various nursing positions. The defendant also pursued his education at that time, completing a bachelor's degree primarily between 1993 and 1998 and, subsequently, a master's degree. He began working at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in 1986 and remained with that employer through the time of the second divorce. In 2000, the parties purchased a house for $315,000.4 In 2001, the defendant accepted an assignment from his employer that required him to live in Turkey. After his departure, the parties grew apart and, in October, 2003, the plaintiff filed for divorce.

A hearing was held on June 9 and 10, 2004, at which each of the parties testified. At the time of the hearing, the plaintiff was forty years old and the defendant was forty-three. The plaintiff's annual full-time salary was determined to be $52,676 and the defendant's, $153,495.5 The parties were in partial agreement as to the terms of a proposed property division and financial orders. They disagreed, however, as to the specifics of an alimony award, particularly as to its term, and to the distribution of the marital residence and the defendant's retirement accounts. The defendant was willing to pay alimony for two and one-half years, while the plaintiff requested a permanent award. With respect to the residence, the defendant was willing to transfer his interest therein to the plaintiff in exchange for $60,500. As to his retirement accounts, he submitted that only the amounts accrued during the second marriage were at issue and requested that they be awarded to him in full. The plaintiff requested the residence outright and 50 percent of the entire value of the defendant's retirement accounts.

The court rendered an oral decision at the conclusion of the hearing and, thereafter, reduced its judgment to writing.6 Pursuant to the court's judgment, the parties were awarded joint legal custody of their one minor child, the sixteen year old son. The son's primary residence was to be with the plaintiff, and the defendant was ordered to pay $272 weekly in child support and provide for the son's health insurance.7

With respect to the distribution of the parties' assets and liabilities, the defendant was ordered to transfer his interest in the marital home, and all of its contents, to the plaintiff,8 and the defendant was awarded the entirety of his 401(k) retirement account.9 The court considered the equity in the home and the value of the defendant's 401(k) to be roughly equal.10 The defendant was to assume responsibility for payment of the elder daughter's student loan and to pay for the entirety of the son's college education.11 The parties were to divide equally the expenses of the younger daughter's attendance at a community college.12 The defendant also was to repay the younger daughter's automobile loan.13 The defendant additionally was to convey to the plaintiff, by way of a qualified domestic relations order, 50 percent of the current value of his pension, which had accrued over the whole of his employment at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.14 Finally, the court ordered him to pay $7500 of the plaintiff's attorney's fees, which totaled $10,000. The plaintiff was to be responsible for her own car loan15 and a credit card account.16

With respect to alimony, the court ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $600 weekly for twelve years. The court explained that it set the alimony rate at an amount that essentially would cover the mortgage payment on the marital home and set its term for the amount of time left on the mortgage.17 It specified that the duration of the alimony would be nonmodifiable by either party. The court further ordered the defendant to obtain life insurance, initially naming the children as beneficiaries and then, once the children reached the age of twenty-three, naming the plaintiff as beneficiary for the duration of the alimony obligation and in a declining amount equal to the remaining alimony payments.

The defendant thereafter filed motions to reargue and for articulation. In his motion to reargue, he took issue with the term of the alimony award, his failure to receive any interest in the marital residence, the awarding of one half of his pension to the plaintiff and the requirement that he pay a portion of her attorney's fees. A hearing on the motions was held on June 29, 2004, at which the court further articulated some of the reasoning underlying its orders. The court also issued a written articulation on September 30, 2004. This appeal followed.

At the outset, we note the standard of review governing the defendant's claims. "We review financial awards in dissolution actions under an abuse of discretion standard. . . . In order to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion, we must find that the court either incorrectly applied the law or could not reasonably conclude as it did. . . . In making those determinations, we allow every reasonable presumption . . . in favor of the correctness of [the trial court's] action." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Greco v. Greco, 82 Conn. App. 768, 772, 847 A.2d 1017 (2004), aff'd, 275 Conn. 348, 880 A.2d 872 (2005). To the extent that the defendant's claims require us to interpret the statutes governing dissolution of marriage, however, our review is plenary. See Robinson v. Robinson, 86 Conn.App. 719, 724, 862 A.2d 326 (2004). We now turn to the issues on appeal. Additional facts will be provided where pertinent.

I

The defendant claims first that, in fashioning its financial orders, the court improperly relied on the total length of the parties' relationship rather than on the length of their second marriage only, in violation of §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82. We agree.

A trial court in a dissolution action, when dividing the parties' property and determining whether, or how much of, an alimony award is warranted, is guided by factors enumerated in §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82, respectively. Both statutes provide for the court's consideration of "the length of the marriage, the causes for the. . . dissolution of the marriage . . . the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties . . . ." (Emphasis added.) General Statutes § 46b-82(a); see also General Statutes § 46b-81(c). Section 46b-81 further directs the court, when effecting a property distribution, to consider the parties' liabilities, their opportunities for future acquisition of capital assets and income and their contributions toward their respective estates. General Statutes § 46-81(c). Section 46b-82 provides additionally that the court, when considering alimony, should take into account the orders it made pursuant to § 46b-81, and, in the case of a parent to whom the custody of minor children has been awarded, the desirability of such parent's securing employment. General Statutes § 46b-82(a). For both statutes, however, the specified criteria are not exhaustive, and the court properly may consider other equitable factors when crafting its property distribution and alimony orders. See Robinson v. Robinson, 187 Conn. 70, 72, 444 A.2d 234 (1982); Demartino v. Demartino, 79 Conn.App. 488, 500, 830 A.2d 394 (2003).

The defendant claims that the court here, in fashioning its orders, improperly relied on the total length of the parties' relationship rather than on the "length of the marriage" as contemplated by the statutes. According to the defendant, the total length of the parties' relationship was "a critical factor" underlying the court's decision to award twelve years of alimony and that consideration was not one authorized by §§ 46b-81 or 46b-82.18 He argues that the court's approach "effectively recognize[d] cohabitation as a marital status."

The following additional facts and procedural history are pertinent to the claim. When testifying at the June 9, 2004 hearing, the plaintiff stated that during the time the parties lived together but were not married, she and the defendant lived like husband and wife. She testified that she thought ...

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