Watrous v. Watrous

Decision Date01 July 2008
Docket NumberNo. 28839.,No. 28039.,28039.,28839.
Citation949 A.2d 557,108 Conn.App. 813
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesCindy Lou WATROUS v. Paul WATROUS.

Keith Yagaloff, with whom, on the brief, was Ryan P. Barry, Manchester, for the appellant (defendant).

Gary Traystman, New London, for the appellee (plaintiff).



These two appeals arise from the dissolution of the parties' marriage. In AC 28039, the defendant, Paul Watrous, claims that the court improperly (1) entered certain financial orders without evidentiary support, (2) ordered that the plaintiff, Cindy Lou Watrous, retain sole custody of the parties' minor child, (3) denied his motion for a continuance to obtain trial counsel1 and (4) failed to ensure a fair and impartial trial. In AC 28839, the defendant claims that the court improperly (1) found him in contempt of court and established a purge amount on the basis of an erroneous arrearage, (2) was biased against the defendant and his father, and (3) awarded the plaintiff attorney's fees. We agree with the defendant only as to his challenge of the court's financial orders in AC 28039 and therefore reverse, in part, the judgment of dissolution and affirm the judgment of contempt.2

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our discussion. The parties were married on March 4, 1978. On September 14, 2004, the plaintiff filed a complaint seeking, inter alia, dissolution of the marriage, sole custody of the parties' minor daughter and financial relief. On August 23, 2006, a trial was held, following which the court rendered judgment of dissolution. Pursuant to the terms of the judgment, the plaintiff was awarded sole custody of the parties' minor daughter with the defendant having reasonable visitation rights and being ordered to pay to the plaintiff $50 per week in child support and $325 per week in alimony to be terminated on the plaintiff's remarriage or the death of either party. The court also ordered the defendant to obtain medical insurance for his minor child and life insurance in the amount of $150,000, naming the plaintiff as irrevocable beneficiary, until his support and alimony obligations terminate. The defendant thereafter filed an appeal from the court's judgment (AC 28039).

On November 1, 2006, the plaintiff filed an amended postjudgment motion for contempt. She alleged that the defendant had disobeyed the court's orders by, inter alia, failing to pay alimony, child support and attorney's fees, and failing to obtain life insurance. A hearing was held on March 23, 2007, after which the court issued an order finding the defendant in contempt of its August 23, 2006 orders. The court also awarded attorney's fees in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $2500.3 The defendant thereafter filed a motion to reconsider the court's March 23, 2007 orders. On April 30, 2007, following a hearing, the court denied the motion to reconsider. The defendant then filed an appeal challenging the court's contempt and attorney's fees orders (AC 28839). Further facts will be set forth as necessary.

We first set forth our standard of review. "The standard of review in family matters is well settled. 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." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Daddio v. O'Bara, 97 Conn.App. 286, 291, 904 A.2d 259, cert. denied, 280 Conn. 932, 909 A.2d 957 (2006).


AC 28039


The defendant first claims that the court improperly entered certain financial orders. Specifically, he argues that the court had insufficient evidence before it (1) to order him to obtain medical and life insurance, (2) to find that the plaintiff was unable to work and (3) to find that he had an earning capacity of $1000 per week.4 We agree with the defendant as to his first claim of error.

"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.... In reviewing the trial court's decision under [an abuse of discretion] standard, we are cognizant that [t]he issues involving financial orders are entirely interwoven. The rendering of judgment in a complicated dissolution case is a carefully crafted mosaic, each element of which may be dependent on the other." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Finan v. Finan, 100 Conn.App. 297, 300, 918 A.2d 910, cert. granted on other grounds, 282 Conn. 926, 926 A.2d 666 (2007). With that principle in mind, we address the defendant's claims in turn.

The defendant claims that the court abused its discretion by ordering him to obtain medical and life insurance without evidence as to its cost and availability. In particular, he maintains that, at the time of the order, he had no medical or life insurance policy in effect and no evidence was introduced at trial as to their potential cost or availability. We agree.

"An order for life insurance is very often an appropriate and necessary component of a judgment of dissolution of marriage.... Such an order, however, must have a reasonable basis in the evidence.... We have held that it is reversible error for the court to order a party to obtain new or additional life insurance without evidence of the availability and cost of that insurance." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Kunajukr v. Kunajukr, 83 Conn.App. 478, 486, 850 A.2d 227, cert. denied, 271 Conn. 903, 859 A.2d 562 (2004); see also Quindazzi v. Quindazzi, 56 Conn.App 336, 338, 742 A.2d 838 (2000); Lake v. Lake, 49 Conn. App. 89, 92, 712 A.2d 989, cert. denied, 246 Conn. 902, 719 A.2d 1166 (1998). The same principle applies to an order to obtain medical insurance. Lake v. Lake, supra, at 93-94, 712 A.2d 989.

After thoroughly reviewing the record, we find that there was no evidence before the court of the availability or cost of life insurance to the defendant. The only reference to life insurance was the defendant's testimony during the dissolution trial that he "didn't believe [he] had any life insurance." As to medical insurance, the defendant testified that medical insurance would be available through his employer after he had been working there for four months. At the time of the trial, he had been working for that employer for three months. There was no evidence presented however, concerning the cost of his employer's medical insurance program. Without sufficient evidence, the court was not in a position to evaluate the ability of the defendant to comply with the order to obtain and to maintain life insurance for himself and medical insurance for his daughter. Without knowing the cost of such insurance, the court entered other financial orders that may be inappropriate, that is, too high or too low depending on the funds required to obtain such insurance. Under these circumstances, we must conclude that the court's orders regarding insurance lack a reasonable basis in the facts.

Because the financial orders in an action for dissolution of marriage are of necessity interwoven and because the rendering of a judgment in an action for the dissolution of marriage is "a carefully crafted mosaic"; Ehrenkranz v. Ehrenkranz, 2 Conn.App. 416, 424, 479 A.2d 826 (1984); we must remand the case to the trial court for a new trial on all financial matters. See Quindazzi v. Quindazzi, supra, 56 Conn. App. at 339, 742 A.2d 838. Because of our conclusion that the financial orders entered in this case must be retried, it is appropriate for us to give guidance on related issues that are likely to recur on retrial. See Allison v. Manetta, 284 Conn. 389, 402, 933 A.2d 1197 (2007). For that reason, we turn our attention to the defendant's other claims concerning the court's financial orders.

The defendant next claims that the court had insufficient evidence before it to find that the plaintiff was unable to work. We disagree.

The court found, following the August 23, 2006 trial, that "[t]he plaintiff is just shy of her forty-fifth birthday. She is in very poor health, and suffers from multiple sclerosis, although the defendant stated that he believes she is no longer suffering from said ailment due to her receiving acupuncture. She operated the couple's catering business with the defendant for most of the marriage. She did not reveal any other skills. She is currently receiving social security disability [benefits], which has been reduced due to the defendant, or the defendant's father, reporting some gambling income to the state ... which has in turn reduced her benefits. There was no evidence to indicate that she could do any other work." The plaintiff testified at trial about her experience with multiple sclerosis and how it had affected her life generally, as well as her ability to work. The defendant also cross-examined her about prescription medication she had been taking to treat her condition. The record further reveals that on July 11, 2006, the plaintiff filed a financial affidavit listing her weekly social security income.

The defendant argues that ...

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