Lynch v. Lynch

Citation43 A.3d 667,135 Conn.App. 40
Decision Date24 April 2012
Docket NumberNo. 31651.,31651.
PartiesDaniel LYNCH v. Laurie LYNCH.
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

William F. Gallagher, New Haven, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV, Greenwich, with whom, on the brief, were Wendy Dunne DiChristina and Stanley M. Goldstein, Trumbull, for the appellee (defendant).

DiPENTIMA, C.J., and ROBINSON and FLYNN, Js.

DiPENTIMA, C.J.

The plaintiff, Daniel Lynch, challenges a myriad of financial orders entered by the trial court at the time of the dissolution judgment and thereafter. In his appeal, the plaintiff claims error in the court's disposition of two pendente lite motions and three of the financial orders of the judgment. In his four amended appeals, the plaintiff raises five additional claimed errors in various postjudgment orders. We reverse in part the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. The parties were married in 1992, and two children were born of the marriage. 1 On September 14, 2009, the court rendered judgment dissolving the marriage on the ground of irretrievable breakdown. The court found that the plaintiff did not have a great deal of financial success, and that the defendant, Laurie Lynch, annually earned in the $70,000 to $80,000 range. The court also found that the plaintiff did not want to sell the marital home until the parties' oldest child graduated from high school, while the defendant wanted the marital home to be sold immediately because the parties financially could not maintain the home and foreclosure of the existing mortgage was imminent.

The court further found that while the family lived frugally, the parties' assets and income as well as expenditures “leave little light at the end of the tunnel.” Although the plaintiff has published a book and has had some financial gain therefrom, the court found that the chances of reversing the parties' financial plight were not encouraging. The court noted that the parties do not communicate with one another, but both wanted to remain in the house until it was sold; the court stated that it would not upset that arrangement. The court concluded that there was no viable alternative to an immediate sale of the marital home.

After making its findings, the court addressed the defendant's motion for modification dated February 4, 2009.2 This motion asserted that the parties' prior stipulation that each party pay equally certain household and children's expenses 3 should be modified on the basis of an increase in the plaintiff's income. The court agreed and ordered the plaintiff to pay 60 percent and the defendant to pay 40 percent of the obligations set forth in the stipulation.

The court then distributed the assets and liabilities of the marital estate and issued a number of financial orders. The court ordered that the plaintiff pay periodic alimony to the defendant at the rate of $200 per week and child support to the defendant at the rate of $135 per week. The court also ordered that the marital home immediately be placed on the market for sale and that the net proceeds from the sale be divided equally between the parties. The court ordered that the plaintiff pay to the defendant 30 percent of the value of his unsold books within thirty days of the date of dissolution of the marriage, and that the plaintiff pay the defendant 30 percent of all income that he receives in the future from the sale of the books. Finally, the court ordered that the plaintiff pay $15,000 toward the defendant's attorney's fees incurred during pretrial and trial proceedings.4 The plaintiff then filed an appeal from the judgment of dissolution.

Thereafter, the court ordered that the plaintiff pay to the defendant the sum of $7500 toward her appellate attorney's fees. On November 24, 2009, the defendant filed a postjudgment motion for sole use and possession of the marital home, which the court granted. In December, 2009, and May, 2010, the plaintiff filed postjudgment motions for modification of certain financial orders, which the court denied. In July, 2010, the defendant filed a postjudgment motion for modification seeking an increase in support, which the court granted for a limited time period. The plaintiff filed four amended appeals challenging these rulings. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

In his original appeal, the plaintiff argues that the court improperly (1) granted the defendant's pendente lite motion for modification, (2) failed to address the plaintiff's pendente lite motion for contempt, (3) ordered him to pay alimony and child support at the same time as it ordered him to pay 60 percent of household and children's expenses, (4) ordered that the intellectual property of the plaintiff be divided as an asset while also ordering that a portion of the income generated by the intellectual property be paid to the defendant and (5) ordered him to pay $15,000 of the defendant's attorney's fees incurred during pretrial and trial proceedings. In his amended appeals, the plaintiff challenges various postjudgment orders of the court; specifically, he argues that the court improperly (6) ordered him to pay appellate attorney's fees, (7) granted the defendant's postjudgment motion for sole use and possession of the marital home, (8) denied his December 30, 2009 postjudgment motion for modification, (9) denied his May 25, 2010 postjudgment motion for modification and (10) denied his motion for a continuance and granted the defendant's postjudgment motion for modification.

We begin by setting forth the applicable standard of review. “An appellate court will not disturb a trial court's orders in domestic relations cases unless the court has abused its discretion or it is found that it could not reasonably conclude as it did, based on the facts presented.... In determining whether a trial court has abused its broad discretion in domestic relations matters, we allow every reasonable presumption in favor of the correctness of its action.... Appellate review of a trial court's findings of fact is governed by the clearly erroneous standard of review. The trial court's findings are binding upon this court unless they are clearly erroneous in light of the evidence and the pleadings in the record as a whole.... A finding of fact is clearly erroneous when there is no evidence in the record to support it ... or when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed....

“A fundamental principle in dissolution actions is that a trial court may exercise broad discretion in awarding alimony and dividing property as long as it considers all relevant statutory criteria.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Cleary v. Cleary, 103 Conn.App. 798, 800–801, 930 A.2d 811 (2007). Further, we note that [t]he issues involving financial orders are entirely interwoven. The rendering of a judgment in a complicated dissolution case is a carefully crafted mosaic, each element of which may be dependent on the other.... Furthermore, trial courts are endowed with broad discretion to distribute property in connection with a dissolution of marriage.” (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Greco v. Greco, 275 Conn. 348, 354, 880 A.2d 872 (2005). With these principles in mind, we first address the plaintiff's claims in his original appeal and then turn to the claims raised in his amended appeals.

I
A

As noted previously, the plaintiff claims error in the court's resolution of two motions filed pendente lite but considered by the court at the time of trial. First, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly granted the defendant's motion for modification of the parties' December 11, 2008 stipulation. We disagree.

“The court's authority to modify alimony orders is found in General Statutes § 46b–86 (a), which provides in relevant part that [u]nless and to the extent that the decree precludes modification ... an order for alimony or support pendente lite may ... be ... modified ... upon a showing of a substantial change in the circumstances of either party.... Additionally, this court has held that [t]he [trial] court has the authority to issue a modification only if it conforms the order to the distinct and definite changes in the circumstances of the parties.... The inquiry, then, is limited to a comparison between the current conditions and the last court order.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Angle v. Angle, 100 Conn.App. 763, 772, 920 A.2d 1018 (2007).

The December 11, 2008 stipulation provided that the parties pay equally the obligations set forth therein. See footnote 3 of this opinion. The defendant's February 4, 2009 motion for modification alleged a substantial change in circumstances because, since the date of the stipulation, the plaintiff had received “income related to a book he recently authored and published.” 5 The court concluded that a substantial change in circumstances existed on the basis of the plaintiff's increase in income as well as the defendant's decrease in income. Accordingly, the court ordered that the plaintiff pay 60 percent of the obligations enumerated in the stipulation.

The plaintiff argues that the court's finding that there was “some decrease in [the] defendant's earnings” was clearly erroneous. On December 11, 2008, the day before the effective date of the stipulation, the defendant filed a financial affidavit reporting a gross weekly income of $1198 and a net weekly income of $933. At trial, the defendant testified that her gross weekly income had decreased to $1077. The plaintiff argues that the defendant “failed to disclose substantial commissions earned” in the course of her employment. “As is often stated, we do not reverse the factual findings of the trial court unless they are clearly erroneous and find no support in the evidence.” (...

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