McKeon v. Lennon

Citation155 Conn.App. 423,109 A.3d 986
Decision Date17 February 2015
Docket NumberNos. 34078,34710,35204.,s. 34078
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
PartiesMaria F. McKEON v. William P. LENNON.

Maria F. McKeon, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

Proloy K. Das, with whom was Debra C. Ruel, Hartford, for the appellee (defendant).

GRUENDEL, LAVINE and MULLINS, Js.

Opinion

GRUENDEL, J.

In these consolidated appeals, the plaintiff, Maria F. McKeon, appeals from several judgments of the trial court rendered in relation to the judgment dissolving her marriage to the defendant, William P. Lennon. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) granted the defendant's motion for modification of child support, (2) denied the her motion for modification of child support, (3) modified the defendant's child support obligation (AC 34078), (4) denied her motion for a finding of contempt (AC 35204), and (5) denied her motion for attorney's fees (AC 34710). We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

These appeals arise from of a series of postjudgment motions related to the parties' 2007 dissolution of marriage. The plaintiff and defendant were married on August 29, 1981. During their twenty-six year marriage, the parties had three children. In 2005, the plaintiff initiated an action for dissolution of marriage. On December 31, 2007, the court rendered judgment dissolving the marriage (dissolution judgment) and entered various orders.

In the dissolution judgment, the court made several relevant factual findings. The court found that the defendant was a vice president at Electric Boat, earning a base salary of $225,420, an annual bonus, stock options, restricted stock awards, and a pension. The court found that the plaintiff was a highly skilled and capable corporate attorney, who in the past had sometimes earned in excess of the defendant's salary. In the years leading up to the divorce, the plaintiff had worked part-time in order to be the primary caregiver to their three children. Despite working part-time, she had been able to earn gross income of $78,500 from mid-July, 2007 through December 12, 2007.

The court issued various orders in connection with the dissolution judgment, including: child custody, division of assets of the marriage, and alimony and child support. First, the dissolution judgment set out a parenting plan regarding the parties' two minor children. The parties were to share joint legal custody of the children, but the plaintiff's home would serve as the children's primary residence. Next, the dissolution judgment ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $439 per week in child support for the parties' two minor children. The dissolution judgment also ordered the parties to each pay 50 percent of the cost of the children's child care, their after school care and transportation, and their private school tuition. The judgment ordered the parties to share all costs over $150 for the children's extracurricular activities, while the plaintiff was ordered to pay for all costs under $150.

The dissolution judgment also awarded alimony to the plaintiff in the amount of $900 per week for a period of fourteen years. This order was modifiable, but not terminable, upon the plaintiff's remarriage or cohabitation. The court awarded the plaintiff additional alimony in the form of an irrevocable interest in the defendant's future annual employment bonuses, executive stock options, and awards of restricted stock. The plaintiff was to receive 50 percent of the defendant's bonuses, stock options, and restricted stock awarded in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The plaintiff was to then receive 40 percent of the defendant's bonuses earned in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and receive 30 percent awarded to him in each year from 2014 through 2021.

In May, 2008, fewer than six months after the dissolution judgment was rendered, the plaintiff filed a motion for modification in which she requested, inter alia, that child support be raised from $439 per week to $1700 per week. On June 10, 2008, the court denied the motion without a hearing. From that judgment, the plaintiff appealed to this court, which heard argument on the matter on November 18, 2010.1 McKeon v. Lennon, 131 Conn.App. 585, 27 A.3d 436, cert. denied, 303 Conn. 901, 31 A.3d 1178 (2011). On appeal, this court concluded that the trial court improperly denied the plaintiff's motion without first conducting a hearing, and, therefore, we reversed the judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. Id., at 599–600, 614–15, 27 A.3d 436. That opinion was released on September 27, 2011.

While the appeal of the 2008 motion for modification was pending before this court, the plaintiff filed another motion for modification of child support with the trial court on April 22, 2010. The plaintiff's motion requested the court to increase the defendant's child support obligation in light of the plaintiff's increased expenses, her decreased net income, and the defendant's increased income since the dissolution judgment. On July 14, 2010, the defendant filed his own motion for modification of child support on the basis that one of their two minor children had turned eighteen years old and had graduated high school. The court scheduled a hearing on both motions in May, 2011.

On May 25, May 26, and June 1, 2011, the trial court held a contested hearing on the plaintiff's and the defendant's motions for modification. On October 20, 2011, the court issued a memorandum of decision granting the defendant's 2010 motion for modification and denying the plaintiff's 2010 motion for modification. The court ordered the defendant's child support obligation to be reduced from $439 per week to $400 per week. This modification reflected the change from support for two minor children, to support for only one minor child. From this judgment, the plaintiff appealed (AC 34078).

On April 25, 2012, pursuant to this court's remand, the trial court held a contested hearing on the plaintiff's 2008 motion for modification. Prior to the hearing, the plaintiff had also filed a motion for attorney's fees and a motion for contempt.

At the hearing, the parties presented evidence on all three motions. As a result of the complicated procedural history of this case, the court was required to determine whether it could consider all changes in circumstances since the 2007 dissolution judgment, or whether it was limited to looking back to only 2011, when the court ruled on the 2010 motions for modification.

In November, 2012, the court issued its memorandum of decision, denying the plaintiff's motion for modification of child support, motion for attorney's fees, and motion for contempt. In doing so, the court considered the circumstances of the parties going back to the 2007 dissolution judgment. Further, the court found that the 2011 child support modification order was in accordance with the child support guidelines and remained equitable and appropriate given the circumstances of the case. From these judgments, the plaintiff also appealed (AC 34710 and AC 35204).

We now consider each of the plaintiff's three consolidated appeals (AC 34078, AC 34710, and AC 35204). Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

I

The plaintiff first claims that the court erred in concluding that there had been a substantial change of circumstances with regard to the defendant's motion for modification and that there had been no substantial change with regard to the plaintiff's motion. We disagree.

We begin by setting forth the appropriate standard of review. “The scope of our review of a trial court's exercise of its broad discretion in domestic relations cases is limited to the questions of whether the [trial] court correctly applied the law and could reasonably have concluded as it did.... 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.... Nevertheless, we may reverse a trial court's ruling on a modification motion if the trial court applied the wrong standard of law....”

[General Statutes § ] 46b–86 (a) governs the modification or termination of an alimony or support order after the date of a dissolution judgment.2 When ... the disputed issue is [child support], the applicable provision of the statute is § 46b–86 (a), which provides that a final order ... may be modified by the trial court upon a showing of a substantial change in the circumstances of either party.... Under that statutory provision, the party seeking the modification bears the burden of demonstrating that such a change has occurred.... To obtain a modification, the moving party must demonstrate that circumstances have changed since the last court order such that it would be unjust or inequitable to hold either party to it. Because the establishment of changed circumstances is a condition precedent to a party's relief, it is pertinent for the trial court to inquire as to what, if any, new circumstance warrants a modification of the existing order.” (Citations omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)

Olson v. Mohammadu, 310 Conn. 665, 671–72, 81 A.3d 215 (2013). We now review the court's conclusions as to whether there was a substantial change in circumstances.

A

The plaintiff claims that the court improperly denied her motion for modification of child support, pursuant to § 46b–86 (a), when it concluded that she had failed to meet her burden of establishing a substantial change of circumstances. We disagree.

“A party moving for a modification of a child support order must clearly and definitely establish the occurrence of a substantial change....” Weinstein v. Weinstein, 104 Conn.App. 482, 492, 934 A.2d 306 (2007), cert. denied, 285 Conn. 911, 943 A.2d 372 (2008). As the power to modify is limited to adapting the order to changes in circumstances, the court must limit its inquiry...

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