Co-parent communication is the key to maximizing summer plans with a minimum of family stress

Co-parent communication is the key to maximizing summer plans with a minimum of family stress

Navigating the complexities of divorce and co-parenting is never easy, and when summer vacation rolls around, changes in children’s schedules and needs can exacerbate communication issues. Our firm has seen firsthand how effective communication between separating couples can make a significant difference in easing this transitional period for both parents and children. Here are some practical basic communication strategies to help co-parents manage summer vacation plans smoothly and amicably.

1. Plan Ahead and Be Flexible

Start Early: Begin discussing summer vacation plans well in advance. May is better than the day before school lets out, so do not delay. This allows both parties ample time to make arrangements and address any concerns that may arise. It’s crucial to approach these discussions with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.

Be Flexible: Understand that plans may need to change due to unforeseen circumstances. Flexibility is key in accommodating each other’s schedules and ensuring your children have a fulfilling summer experience. Camps will have unexpected closures, sick days happen all year, transitions tend to be at different times and locations in Summer than during the school year, and travel plans and itineraries may change and need to be shared. If this is your first separated Summer, there will be new and unexpected challenges.

2. Use Clear and Respectful Communication

Stay Focused on the Children: Keep the conversation centered around the interests of your children. Avoid bringing up past conflicts or unrelated issues. The goal is to create a positive environment for your children during the summer. Take a step back from the pressures you face and your own perspective from time to time and try to look through your children’s perspective.

Be Clear and Specific: Clearly outline the details of any agreements you make. This includes dates, times, locations, and any specific arrangements regarding transportation or activities. Putting everything in writing and getting a clear “yes” can help prevent misunderstandings. The right wording can request clarity without being antagonistic. “I want to make sure that we have the same understanding of how XYZ transition will work. Please confirm that we will meet at ABC location at DEF time and bring GHI supplies on JKL date.” An agreement to change a schedule that each party thinks means something different from the other can be worse than no flexibility. Clarity and mutual understanding are critical and can and should be managed with respectful communication.

Stay Respectful: Emotions can run high during divorce proceedings, but it’s essential to communicate respectfully. Avoid accusatory language and try to understand your co-parent’s perspective. Every communication with the other parent is an opportunity to build trust and respect, but every communication is also a chance to deplete whatever reservoir of goodwill you have developed.

3. Utilize Technology

Shared Calendars: Consider using a shared online calendar to keep track of summer schedules. Tools like Google Calendar can be incredibly useful for coordinating activities and ensuring both parents are on the same page.

Communication Apps: There are several apps designed specifically for co-parenting. These apps can provide a neutral platform for communication and help manage schedules, expenses, and messages.

4. Set Clear Boundaries

Establish Guidelines: Set clear guidelines about how and when you will communicate. Determine the preferred method of communication (e.g., email, text, phone calls) and agree on appropriate times to discuss plans.

Respect Privacy: While it’s important to keep each other informed, respect each other’s privacy and boundaries. Avoid excessive check-ins or demands for information that are not directly related to your children’s well-being. Do not use the children as go-betweens for information or as sources of information about the other parent’s home.

5. Address Conflicts Amicably

Stay Calm: If disagreements arise, approach them calmly and constructively. Take a break if the conversation becomes too heated and return to the discussion when both parties are more composed.

Seek Mediation or Co-Parenting Counseling: If you’re unable to reach an agreement on your own or are struggling to do so, consider seeking the help of a private mediator. A neutral third party can provide valuable perspective and facilitate a resolution that works for both parents and save a lot of time and headache.

6. Prioritize Your Children’s Needs

Listen to Your Children: Depending on their age, work together with the other parent to involve your children in the planning process. Listen to their preferences and try to accommodate their wishes as much as possible in a way that does not put them in the middle, keeping in mind their emotional and physical well-being.

Maintain Consistency: Strive to maintain consistency in your children’s routines, even during vacation periods. This can provide a sense of stability and security amidst the changes brought about by divorce.

7. Review and Adjust as Needed

Regular Check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins to discuss how the summer plans are progressing. This allows you to make any necessary adjustments and address any new issues that may arise.

Be Willing to Adjust: Be prepared to revisit and adjust your plans as needed. Life is unpredictable, and being adaptable can help ensure that your children have a positive and enjoyable summer experience.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful co-parenting, especially during the summer vacation period. By planning ahead, being flexible, and prioritizing respectful and clear communication, you can create a harmonious and supportive environment for your children. Remember, the ultimate goal is to ensure your children’s happiness and well-being, even as you navigate the complexities of divorce. If you need additional guidance, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a professional family lawyer.

Summer vacations are an opportunity for children to make fantastic memories that will last a lifetime, irrespective of the family system. Do everything you can to give your children that opportunity.

Photo by Limor Zellermayer on Unsplash.

Child turning 18 mooted appeal as to custody and parenting issues: A.A.M. v. M.Z. 225 Conn. App. 46 (2024)

Child turning 18 mooted appeal as to custody and parenting issues: A.A.M. v. M.Z. 225 Conn. App. 46 (2024)

A.A.M. v. M.Z. 225 Conn. App. 46 (2024)(child turning 18 mooted appeal as to custody and parenting issues)

Officially released April 23, 2024

In Short and only: The issues related on appeal were limited to challenges to the trial court’s rulings related to custody and visitation and the relief requested was entirely devoted to access to the child.  The child turned eighteen.  Despite the fact that the appeal involved issues of contempt, the Appellate Court dismissed the appeal as moot on the basis that no practical relief could be afforded.

Third party intervention; subject matter jurisdiction versus statutory authority: Hepburn v. Brill 348 Conn. 827 (2024)

Third party intervention; subject matter jurisdiction versus statutory authority: Hepburn v. Brill 348 Conn. 827 (2024)

Hepburn v. Brill 348 Conn. 827 (2024) (third party intervention; subject matter jurisdiction versus statutory authority)

 

Officially released April 16, 2024

 

In Short: Per the allegations of an aunt’s petition and amended petition for third-party visitation under § 46b-59, a child lived with her mother, aunt and grandmother from birth in 2010 to death of her grandmother and suicide of her mother in 2021, the Aunt was her primary caregiver for a prolonged period of time before Father took the child and cut off access, the child was emotionally and physically devastated by being cut off from her Aunt, and Father was neglectful and abusive.  Held: (1) The issue on the motion to dismiss was statutory authority, not subject matter jurisdiction, and the trial court had authority to consider the amended petition, (2) under these allegations, it was error for the trial court to dismiss the petition and amended petition without a hearing.

 

Plaintiff-Appellant-Aunt (“Aunt”), sought to intervene under the third-party visitation statute.  Aunt appealed the judgment of the trial court dismissing her amended verified petition for third-party visitation.  Aunt alleged on appeal that (1) the trial court improperly treated Defendant-Appellee-Father’s (“Father”) motion to dismiss as a question of subject matter jurisdiction rather than statutory authority under C.G.S. § 46b-59, and (2) the trial court incorrectly determined that the amended petition failed to include the specific and good faith allegations necessary to demonstrate a parent-like relationship and that denial would cause real and significant harm.

 

The Appellate Court reviewed the procedural history as well as the factual assertions by Aunt, construed in her favor, as it was addressing a motion to dismiss.  As reviewed by the Appellate Court, the child was born in 2010.  From birth until 2021 the child lived with her mother (“Mother”), maternal grandmother (“Grandmother”), and Aunt.  Father would regularly visit the child’s home, but only had about one visit per year outside of the home.  In 2015 Grandmother suffered a stroke and Mother became Grandmother’s primary caretaker, resulting in Aunt increasingly stepping into a parent role for the child. Aunt was involved in waking the child in the morning, providing meals, getting the child to school, assisting with homework, engaging in recreational activities and taking her medical appointments.

 

In 2021 Grandmother died, and two days later Mother died by suicide.  The child continued to live with Aunt.  Father moved to Connecticut and started taking the child on weekends.  In November 2021 Father took the child to live with him full time.  Aunt sought visitation via Father unsuccessfully, and then filed a petition via probate court unsuccessfully for emergency temporary custody, removal of Father as guardian, and her appointment as permanent guardian.  After the emergency petition was denied Aunt withdrew the probate court and filed this third-party visitation action.

 

Father filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The parties did not have a hearing, but met in chambers, where the court questioned whether the petition alleged sufficient facts to provide subject matter jurisdiction under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-59(b).  Father filed a second motion to dismiss, claiming that Aunt lacked standing under § 46b-59(b) for lack of sufficient allegations as to a parent-like relationship and real and significant harm.  Aunt then filed an amended petition alleging additional facts, including claims arising from calls between Aunt and child leading up to the petition, alleging that the child was in dire physical and emotional health and that Father was neglectful and even outright abusive.  Father filed an objection to the amended petition, arguing that it would be improper for the court to consider the amended petition while a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is pending.

 

The trial court held a hearing and issued a memorandum of decision granting the motion to dismiss the initial petition and dismissing the amended position.  The trial court determined that initial petition did not satisfy the requirements of § 46b-59 and that the amended petition did not satisfy the requirement regarding facts that would demonstrate a parent-like relationship.

 

The Appellate Court exercised plenary review over all aspects of the appeal, including the issues of subject matter jurisdiction and statutory authority to act.  This also applied to the sufficiency of the pleadings, as interpretation of pleadings is subject to plenary review.

 

The Appellate Court then began by articulating the difference between subject matter jurisdiction and authority to act under a particular statute, as that determined whether it should consider only the initial petition or the amended petition.  Subject matter jurisdiction “involves the authority of a court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented … in determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction, every presumption favoring jurisdiction should be indulged.” § 46b-1 provides the superior court with “plenary and general subject matter jurisdiction over legal disputes in family relations matters…” The Appellate Court determined that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the petition, and question that remained was whether sufficiently specific and good faith facts had been pled to provide the court with authority to act under § 46b-59.

 

The Appellate Court overruled the Appellate Court’s decision in Igersheim v. Bezrutczyk, 197 Conn. App. 412, 420 (2020), finding that, because the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction, and because of the liberal amending provisions of Practice Book § 25-7, it was proper to consider the amended petition.

 

That brought the Appellate Court to the question of whether the amended petition pled sufficient good faith allegations as to the parent-like relationship and real and significant harm if visitation were denied. The Appellate Court indicated that pleadings are to be broadly and realistically construed.

 

The Appellate Court cited Jeanette-Blethen v. Jeanette-Blethen, 172 Conn. App. 98 (2017) for an example of a parent-like relationship under § 46b-59, and concluded that the amended petition alleged the existence of care of sufficient duration, regularity and magnitude to establish a parent-like relationship.

 

The Appellate Court noted that the severance of a parent-like relationship alone does not necessarily constitute the necessary realistic harm, the facts here, with the child coping with the death of a parent and other circumstances, reached the necessary threshold.  The Appellate Court differentiated the general and conclusory allegations of harm in Fuller v. Baldino, 176 Conn. App. 451 (2017) and Romeo v. Bazow, 195 Conn. App. 378 (2020) from the specific disruptions and harms alleged to have been suffered by the child in this case.

 

The Judgment was reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing in which Aunt must prove by clear and convincing evidence that she has a parent-like relationship and that denial of visitation would cause real and significant harm pursuant to § 46b-59.  All justices concurred in the decision.

Child support; contempt sanctions: Y.H. v. J.B. 224 Conn. App. 793 (2024)

Child support; contempt sanctions: Y.H. v. J.B. 224 Conn. App. 793 (2024)

Y.H. v. J.B. 224 Conn. App. 793 (2024)(child support; contempt sanctions)

Officially released April 16, 2024

In Short: (1) The trial court must consider the applicable statute and guidelines regarding an award of child support irrespective of whether either party asks for child support (and child support was requested…), (2) omission of child support was significant enough to trigger a total financial remand under the mosaic doctrine, and (3) a sanction for contempt must be restricted to efforts related to the contempt.

The parties had a child in 2008 and were married in 2010.  Wife commenced divorce in 2020.  The matter was tried before Judge Moukawsher.  The trial court issued a memorandum of decision granting joint legal custody and awarding Husband primary residence of the child.  The trial court stated “[n]either party has asked for alimony or child support, so the court will order none.” The trial court awarded the parties’ business, which it valued at $100k, to Wife.  The trial court ordered that Husband have the marital home until the child turned nineteen or graduated high school and that it then be sold and a payment of $90k or 35% of the proceeds, whichever was greater, be paid to Wife.

The trial court also granted Wife’s three motions for contempt regarding finances of the business and ordered Husband to pay $40k of Wife’s counsel fees, but also stated that it was awarding such pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-62.

Husband appealed the judgment of dissolution arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in (1) declining to award him alimony and child support, (2) how it divided marital property including home and business, and (3) granting Wife’s motion for contempt and awarding her $40k in counsel fees.  The Appellate Court set forth the abuse of discretion standard of review.

The Appellate Court first addressed the issue of child support, noting that Husband had repeatedly requested child support, and that, even if Husband had not requested child support, it was improper to fail to award it without first considering the applicable statutes and guidelines.  The language of C.G.S. § 46b-84 is mandatory. In light of the trial court’s failure to apply the statutes and guidelines, the Appellate Court remanded the case for a new trial on all financial orders based on the mosaic doctrine.

The Appellate Court next addressed Husband’s claims of abuse of discretion as to contempt and the award of $40k in counsel fees.  The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court that the underlying orders forming the basis for the contempt finding were clear and unambiguous and held that the trial court could reasonably have concluded that Husband had willfully failed to comply with those orders.  However, the Appellate Court found that, to the extent that the $40k was a sanction, it constituted abuse of discretion which entitled Husband to a new hearing as to the appropriate sanction for willful violation of the court’s orders, and to the extent that it was made pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-62 it must be remanded for reconsideration in light of the above remand under the mosaic doctrine. Orders under C.G.S. § 46b-87 are restricted to efforts related to the contempt action, and the trial court cited no evidence relating the award to the motions for contempt.

The judgment was reversed only as to financial orders and the award of attorney’s fees and remanded for a new trial on financial issues and for the appropriate contempt sanctions.

This is the first time that Judge Moukawsher was reversed on appeal in a family docket case.

Determination of income & prior year K-1 versus more recent distributions: Marshall v. Marshall, 224 Conn. App. 45 (2024)

Determination of income & prior year K-1 versus more recent distributions: Marshall v. Marshall, 224 Conn. App. 45 (2024)

Marshall v. Marshall, 224 Conn. App. 45 (2024)(determination of income & prior year K-1 versus more recent distributions)

Officially released February 27, 2024.

In Short: (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by relying on a 2020 K-1 showing $1.3m of income rather than 2021 distributions of $2.3m in assessing Wife’s income in February of 2022, and (2) the trial court was not required to assign Wife an earning capacity.

The parties were married in 2000 and had three children, two of whom were minors at time of trial.  Wife filed for divorce in 2017.

At time of trial, Wife was 46 and an equity partner at an investment banking firm that she cofounded in 2012.  Her income was a percentage of the partnership’s yearly net profits in the form of distributions.  Testimony indicated an informality and ad-hoc nature to the assessment of each partner’s percentage of the net profit.  Wife’s percent of partnership income and actual K-1 income from 2018-2021 was 21%/$2.4m, 15%/$1.2m, 12%/$1.3m, and 11%/$2.3m respectively.  Wife’s financial affidavit at time of trial, in February of 2022, relied on her 2020 K-1 as she had not yet received her 2021 K-1.

At time of trial, Husband was 53 and unemployed.  He was last employed as a senior managing director at Focuspoint Private Capital.  He testified that he lost his job due to poor performance and that he could not find a new job due to a felony conviction in 2013.  The trial court assigned Husband an earning capacity of $350k.

Judge Margarita Hartley Moore issued a memorandum of decision in 2022 finding that Husband’s unilateral decision not to find employment was the primary cause of the breakdown.  The trial court ordered Wife to pay alimony of $1,500 per week for five years.  The parties were to share joint legal and physical custody of the minor children.  The trial court awarded $1,500 per week in child support, which was significantly above the above-guideline presumptive floor of $708/week, citing the needs of the children.

Husband appealed claiming that the trial court improperly (1) relied on Wife’s allegedly manipulated 2020 income in fashioning the child support and alimony awards instead of relying on her 2021 partnership distributions, and alternatively, (2) based those support orders on Wife’s reported income rather than on her earning capacity.  Husband argued that the trial court relied on Wife’s February 2022 financial affidavit which reflected her 2020 actual earned income of $1.3m rather than the evidence of the $2.3m in distributions she received in 2021 as a partner or applying an earning capacity.

The Appellate Court set forth the abuse of discretion and clearly erroneous standard of review.  It cited C.G.S. § 46b-84 and case law relating to above-guideline maximum awards of child support.

As to Husband’s first claim, the Appellate Court found that the trial court had explicitly considered the distributions received by Wife in 2021, had considered a written threat made by Wife to reduce her income, and had noted that her income had in fact been reduced during the divorce.  However, the trial court also considered that additional partners were added and the structure calls for significant fluctuations in income from year to year.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court was within its discretion to base its financial orders on Wife’s 2020 income because it was unable to determine her 2021 and YTD 2022 income solely based on distributions, without a K-1.  Distributions are not the same as income and the partnership decision and K-1 are the final word on the actual income.

As to Husband’s second claim, that the trial court erred by not assigning Wife an earning capacity, the Appellate Court made short work in determining that the trial court was not required to do so.  Wife had been continuously employed and had income documented on her K-1 on which the trial court could reasonably rely in crafting orders.  The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion.The trial court was affirmed.

I cannot help but wonder, if Husband had not been such an unsympathetic character or the sympathies had been reversed, if Husband’s first claim on appeal might not have prevailed (although he might have had a very different result at the trial level in the first place had that been the case).

Modification of unallocated award; change in residence of child; cohabitation: De Almeida-Kennedy v. Kennedy, 224 Conn. App. 19 (2024)

Modification of unallocated award; change in residence of child; cohabitation: De Almeida-Kennedy v. Kennedy, 224 Conn. App. 19 (2024)

De Almeida-Kennedy v. Kennedy, 224 Conn. App. 19 (2024) (modification of unallocated award; change in residence of child; cohabitation)

 

Officially released February 27, 2024

 

In Short: (1) a change in residence of a child between the parties constitutes a substantial change in circumstances, (2) the cohabitation statute applied where the language of the separation agreement did not expressly preclude modification, and (3) there is a clear procedure for modifying unallocated awards of child support and alimony.

 

The parties had two children and were divorced via separation agreement in 2010. The separation agreement awarded sole legal and physical custody to Wife and supervised access to Husband. The Separation agreement stated that both children were presently special needs children as defined by Connecticut statute and provided that Husband would pay unallocated support of $1,000 per week, until the death of either party, assigning an earning capacity to Husband and precluding downward modification until Wife earned $50,000/year.  There was no other language in the separation agreement precluding or limiting modification.

 

In 2014, the parties modified that award to $900/week by agreement and eliminated the provision restricting downward modification based on Wife’s income.  The parties agreed to joint legal custody with primary physical custody remaining with Wife.

 

In 2015 Husband filed a motion to modify his financial obligations which was denied and the decision affirmed in prior appeal.

 

In 2018, Husband filed the operative motion to modify the unallocated child support and alimony award.  The motion alleged, as a legal basis, that the court had not followed the law in making a child support determination since 2010, that he had lost his primary client, that he was under the care of a psychiatrist, and that the separation agreement did not reflect the termination date for alimony contemplated by the parties.

 

Judge Egan granted Wife’s motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on both parties having moved out of the state, Husband appealed the dismissal, and the Appellate Court reversed and remanded for a new trial in a prior appeal.

 

In May of 2022, Judge Rodriguez held an evidentiary hearing on Husband’s motion.  Wife did not appear.  During the hearing, Husband identified two substantial changes in circumstances, including cohabitation and change in residence of the older child from Wife to Husband.

 

Husband testified that his understanding of the separation agreement was that alimony was modifiable and, after a nine-year marriage, he did not expect to still be paying alimony thirteen years post-divorce.  Husband testified that his elder child had moved in with him in November of 2021.  A private investigator hired by Husband testified regarding her qualifications, regarding numerous indicia that Wife was residing with and in the residence of another man, and that Wife had established a business that was registered to an address also owned by that same man. Husband offered the testimony of his 18-year-old child regarding cohabitation, but the trial court discouraged it, stating at one point “I don’t need his testimony.”

 

The trial court issued a memorandum of decision denying Husband’s motion. The trial court held that Husband failed to prove a substantial change in circumstances, indicated that Husband had unclean hands due to a substantial arrearage, found that he failed to provide satisfactory evidence of cohabitation, found that the private investigator was not credible, noted that the order has consistently been unallocated, and determined that the alimony award was not modifiable based on cohabitation.

 

Husband appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in (1) determining that the change in residence of the older child did not constitute a substantial change in circumstances, (2) denying the motion without determining the child support component of the unallocated order, (3) interpreting the unallocated support obligation as set forth in the separation agreement to be nonmodifiable, and (4) disallowing the testimony of the older child as to the alleged cohabitation of Mother.

 

The Appellate Court set forth the abuse of discretion and clearly erroneous standards of review that it applied to all issues in this appeal.

 

As to Husband’s first claim on appeal, the Appellate Court held that the trial court’s finding that Husband failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances for purposes of child support was clearly erroneous.  The Appellate Court emphasized the importance of ensuring that the custodian receives the support payments pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-84.  Husband’s testimony that the elder child had moved in with him was entirely uncontroverted and the trial court failed to make any findings based on that undisputed testimony.  The Appellate Court brushed aside the trial court’s findings of unclean hands in a footnote, indicating that the trial court had decided the motion on the basis of lack of substantial change.

 

On the first claim alone, Husband was entitled to a new hearing with respect to modification of the child support component of the unallocated order, however, the Appellate Court addressed the second claim on appeal in order to provide guidance on remand.  To modify an unallocated award of child support, the trial court must first unbundle the order from the last modification and determine what portion was child support and what portion was alimony.  It must then apply the child support guidelines and statutory criteria.  In this case, the trial court must work from the 2014 agreement, at which time financial affidavits and a child support guideline worksheet had been filed.  That means determining the parties’ net weekly income from the 2014 financial affidavits, calculating the presumptive support using the outdated 2005 guidelines in effect at that time, ascertaining the intent of the parties in 2014 as to how the deviated unallocated amount was to be divided, and then applying the current guidelines against current financial circumstances.

 

The Appellate Court addressed the third and fourth claims on appeal together.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court had erroneously interpreted the agreement to preclude modification based on cohabitation.  There was no language in the separation agreement precluding modification and the 2014 agreement amended the agreement by removing the restrictions for Wife’s income.  C.G.S. § 46b-86 provides for modifiability “[u]nless and to the extent that the decree precludes” it. The Appellate Court determined that the trial court “misled” Husband into forgoing his son’s testimony as to cohabitation.  The Appellate Court also made a very unusual foray into second-guessing credibility determinations, noting that the trial court failed to identify any aspects of the private investigator’s testimony that were not credible nor providing any explanation for its wholesale disregard of her testimony.  Lastly, the Appellate Court opined harshly on the trial court’s reliance on the long history of an unallocated order in this case, finding that it bolstered the conclusion that the trial court applied the wrong standard of law.

 

The Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing.

 

 

LKMB Founding Partners Recognized by Martindale-Hubbell

LKMB Founding Partners Recognized by Martindale-Hubbell

Once again, Partners Bruce Louden, Robert Katz, and David McGrath have been rated Client Champions and AV Preeminent Attorneys by Martindale-Hubbell. They are each recognized for their professional excellence, ethics, and client care.

For more than 130 years, Martindale-Hubbell has been evaluating attorneys for their strong legal ability and high ethical standards through a Peer Review Rating system. The first edition of Martindale’s American Law Directory, published in 1887, was the first publication to provide such ratings to attorneys.

Today, Martindale-Hubbell continues to provide verified ratings for attorneys based not only on their legal ability and ethical standards as judged by their peers, but also based on reviews from their clients. While the criteria and format of the Peer Review Rating system has evolved since the 1800’s – the goal of Martindale-Hubbell ratings remains the same: to help keep the public informed when making the decision to do business with an attorney or law firm.

AV Preeminent®: The highest peer rating standard. This is given to attorneys who are ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for their legal expertise, communication skills, and ethical standards by their peers.

Client Champion awards recognize those attorneys who excel at service as affirmed by their clients. The awards, based on the quantity and quality of an attorney’s Martindale-Hubbell client reviews, demonstrate an ongoing commitment to delivering excellent client service.

Award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis: F.S. v. J.S., 223 Conn. App. 763 (2024)

Award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis: F.S. v. J.S., 223 Conn. App. 763 (2024)

F.S. v. J.S., 223 Conn. App. 763 (2024) (award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis)

Officially released February 20, 2024

In Short: Wife was awarded sole legal and physical custody, and Husband was awarded only supervised access contingent on his treatment at his own expense.  Husband threw the kitchen sink of claims at the Appellate Court.  Husband’s diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder was relied upon to an appropriate extent by the trial court in the context of other evidence and the impact of his behavior.

The parties were married and had one child, born in 2011.  The parties began divorce proceedings in 2016.  The pendente lite period was fraught with conflict and litigation, orders were entered precluding the filing of additional motions, a GAL appointment and removal took place, a criminal protective order and violation thereof occurred, a custody and psychological evaluation was conducted, and various permutations of no access, unsupervised and supervised access for Husband were ordered at different times.

The divorce was granted via separation agreement as to financial matters, with the custody matter than referred to the Regional Family Trial Docket and tried before Judge Nguyen-O’Dowd.  The trial court issued a memorandum of decision regarding custody and multiple outstanding motions.

The trial court set forth detailed findings with regard to Husband’s behavior, parenting skills, difficult relationship with the child, medical diagnosis by two doctors of narcissistic personality disorder and failure to make or maintain progress on treating the same, as well as the healthy relationship between Wife and the child.  The trial court found that Husband was a high conflict individual, prone to making threats, seeking control, and suffering from paranoia and conspiracy theories.  The trial court detailed several disturbing parenting behaviors and incidents by Husband as well as its view that Husband was essentially incapable of providing healthy parenting or recognizing his shortcomings.

The trial court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Wife.  Husband was awarded weekly supervised access with a professional supervisor at his own expense.  Such access would commence after Husband provided proof that he had engaged a clinician to address his narcissistic personality disorder with updated proof required on a quarterly basis.  Husband appealed.

The Appellate Court set forth the abuse of discretion and clearly erroneous standards of review applicable to this appeal and the requirements of C.G.S. § 46b-56 regarding custody and parenting orders.

Husband’s first two claims on appeal asserted that the trial court violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by refusing to provide him with medical accommodations and retaliating against him for exercising his rights by denying his motions and prematurely resting his case.  The Appellate Court found the record ambiguous as to whether Husband had a “disability” for purposes of the ADA, but nevertheless concluded that Husband received reasonable accommodations and procedural due process and that Husband provided no evidence of retaliatory animus.  Although Husband had been provided with half day hearings at one point during pendente lite proceedings as a result of his claims of “stress” and a doctor’s note regarding the same, those accommodations were not non-modifiable, nor made pursuant to any ADA request, and the trial court was well within its discretion to manage its docket appropriately during trial.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly relied on his mental health diagnosis as a basis of limiting his right to visitation and awarding custody to Wife.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court did not improperly rely on the diagnosis and the trial court appropriately provided reasons based on Husband’s behaviors and failure to improve his behavior.  It was not improper for the trial court to rely, in part, on Husband’s mental health and its effect on the child.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly relied on a stale custody evaluation.  The evaluation was completed in December 2019 and the trial concluded in March of 2022 due to numerous delays.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court had ample evidence before it regarding Husband’s present ability to parent, and that the trial court considered and evaluated the report and testimony in light of other current evidence.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly required the parties to request leave of the court before filing motions and denied multiple requests.  The Appellate Court noted that trial courts have the discretion to refuse to entertain or decide motions in order to prevent harassing or vexatious litigation.  The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion in the orders restricting filing of motions.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly awarded sole custody of the child to Wife, claiming that they had always shared custody and that Wife made no showing of a substantial change in circumstances.  The Appellate Court found no error.  Irrespective of the orders prior to Judgment, the time of Judgment was the appropriate time to make a final determination of custody.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court erroneously found that he had narcissistic personality disorder.  The Appellate Court found ample evidence in the record, including the testimony of the psychological evaluator, to support the factual finding.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court committed evidentiary errors including improperly admitting certain testimony of a social worker and an affidavit of the child’s therapist.  The trial court permitted testimony of the social worker over Husband’s objection, the social worker testified that she relied, in part, on the affidavit of the child’s therapist, and the affidavit was marked for identification, but its actual contents were not the subject of testimony and it was not itself admitted. The trial court made no reference to relying on the contents of the affidavit, which were not in evidence.  The Appellate Court applied the abuse of discretion standard to the trial court’s evidentiary ruling and found no error.

The Judgment was affirmed.

Automatic orders effective upon service; dissipation of assets & discretion in property award: Wethington v. Wethington. ___ Conn. App. ___ (2023)

Automatic orders effective upon service; dissipation of assets & discretion in property award: Wethington v. Wethington. ___ Conn. App. ___ (2023)

Wethington v. Wethington. 223 Conn. App. 715 (2023) (automatic orders effective upon service; dissipation of assets & discretion in property award)

Officially released February 13, 2024

In Short: The automatic orders are not effective until they are served (although the court properly considered prior dissipation of funds in fashioning division of assets); the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Wife 60% of the marital estate where Husband was primarily responsible for the breakdown of the marriage and dissipated funds.

The parties married in 2010, had one child in 2012, began divorce proceedings in 2019, and had a four-day divorce trial in 2021-2022 before Judge Egan.  The trial also addressed six motions for contempt, pendente lite.

The trial court found that the primary causes of the breakdown of the marriage was Husband’s “excessive” drinking as well as his physical and verbal abuse.  The trial court found Husband not to be credible.  Wife was awarded 60% of the proceeds from the marital residence and other assets, Husband was found in contempt on the six motions for contempt and ordered to pay $76k out of his share of the proceeds as well as $25k in counsel fees related to those contempt findings.

Husband appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly (1) granted several motions for contempt pendente lite, (2) distributed the parties’ assets, and (3) denied several postjudgment motions to reargue.

Husband’s first claim addressed in the appeal was that he was improperly held in contempt for violation of the automatic orders prior to them becoming effective against him, and the trial court improperly denied his motion to reargue on that point.  Husband was served with the notice of automatic orders on November 21, 2019.  The trial court’s orders addressed, in part, conduct that predated the service of the automatic orders.

The Appellate Court reviewed the legal question regarding the application of the automatic orders and rules of practice under the plenary standard of review.  The Appellate Court also set forth the standard for reviewing a ruling on a motion to reargue, which is abuse of discretion.  Practice Book § 25-5 provides for service of such automatic orders and renders them effective on the plaintiff upon the signing of the complaint and upon defendant upon service.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court improperly found Husband to be governed by the automatic orders prior to service and improperly denied the motion to reargue on that point.

Husband’s second claim addressed in the appeal was that the trial court improperly failed to credit him money he had escrowed in accordance with a stipulation, pendente lite.  The parties had entered into a stipulation providing for certain pendente lite payments to Wife, as well as a $46,000 escrow account for Wife’s use.  Husband contended that the escrow was merely for security for which he should be credited, whereas Wife argued, and the trial court found, that it was an additional obligation.  The Appellate Court determined that the stipulation was clear and unambiguous and that the escrowed monies were an additional obligation.

Husband’s third claim addressed in the appeal was that his purchase of a Mercedes-Benz E350 during the pendency of the action constituted a customary and usual household expense permitted by the automatic orders, that he needed the second vehicle which he purchased for $14,000 for his use while living in Florida.  The Appellate Court reviewed the trial court’s finding of contempt on this point for abuse of discretion.  The Appellate Court rejected Husband’s argument in light of his ownership of another vehicle and lack of credibility as to his needs found by the trial court.

Husband’s fourth claim addressed in the appeal was that the trial court improperly distributed the assets pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-81.  The trial court had awarded Wife 60% of the marital assets, plus the sums and fees ordered in connection with the contempt findings.  The Appellate Court applied the abuse of discretion standard, and, in light of the trial court’s findings of cause for the breakdown of the marriage and dissipation of funds, the trial court was well within its broad discretion in entering its orders.

The Judgment was reversed only with regard to the contempt and reargument specifically as to the conduct that occurred prior to the entry of the automatic orders and remanded with direction to enter orders consistent with the opinion in that respect.

Bad faith exception to the American rule: Jacques v. Jacques 223 Conn. App. 501 (2024)

Bad faith exception to the American rule: Jacques v. Jacques 223 Conn. App. 501 (2024)

Jacques v. Jacques 223 Conn. App. 501 (2024) (bad faith exception to the American rule)

Officially released January 30, 2024

In Short: The trial court relied on a prior court’s memorandum of decision and did not make sufficiently specific findings as to colorless claims and bad faith to support an award of counsel fees under the bad faith exception to the American rule.  The decision was reversed and remanded for a new hearing on the issue.

The parties were divorced in 2009 by separation agreement.  The separation agreement stated, inter alia, “[A]ny assets over ten thousand and 00/100 ($10,000.00) dollars in fair market value that the [defendant] owns or has an equitable interest in at the time of the dissolution which are not shown by the [defendant] on her financial affidavit, shall, upon discovery by the other party, become [the plaintiff’s] property without any defense interposed by the [defendant] whatsoever as to such claims of the other party.”

In 2016, Husband brought a breach of contract action against Wife, alleging that Wife breached the agreement by failing to disclose certain assets.  Husband alleged that Wife liquidated two annuities prior to the divorce and that those proceeds, over $1m, were undisclosed assets.  Wife countered that those monies were used to purchase land and build Husband’s home, so the proceeds were not undisclosed.  Wife also asserted five special defenses, including the statute of limitations on contract actions.

After a bench trial, Judge Adelman found in favor of Wife, holding that Husband’s action was barred by the six-year statute of limitations per C.G.S. 52-576(a), finding insufficient evidence as to a breach, finding that Wife did not own the annuities at time of Judgment, finding that Husband had knowledge of the funding and construction of the home, and no failure to disclose assets by either party.

In a prior appeal, Husband challenged the conclusion that the statute of limitations barred his action, but that appeal was dismissed as moot because Husband failed to challenge an independent ground for the court’s judgment, namely, insufficient evidence.

In 2020, Wife filed a motion for counsel fees pursuant to C.G.S. § 46b-62, the agreement, Practice Book § 1-25, and the court’s inherent authority.  Wife’s motion stated that the actions were in bad faith and entirely without color.  In 2021, following a hearing, Judge Epstein granted Wife’s motion for counsel fees under the bad faith exception to the American rule and awarded $51,641.

Husband appealed, arguing that the trial court failed to make factual findings with the high degree of specificity required in order to award attorney’s fees under the bad faith exception.  Husband argued that Judge Epstein relied solely on the text of Judge Adelman’s decision which lacked facts or findings sufficient to serve as a basis of the award.

The Appellate Court reviewed the claim under the abuse of discretion standard.  The Appellate Court reiterated the requirements of the bad faith exception to the American rule, namely that the challenged actions are entirely without color and in bad faith as well as a high degree of specificity in the factual findings.  Bad faith focuses on subjective intent.  The Appellate Court concluded that the factual findings of Judge Adelman’s decision were insufficient for Judge Epstein to have relied upon regarding Husband acting in bad faith or his claims lacking color.  Judge Epstein failed to herself review the record from the prior proceedings and make her own factual findings with the required level of specificity.

The judgment was reversed and remanded for a new hearing on the motion for attorney’s fees.

 

 

2023: Looking Back at a Good Year

2023: Looking Back at a Good Year

With 2023 in the rear-view mirror, we at LKMB are thankful once more to have had a good year collectively as a firm, as the individuals within it, and on behalf of our clients.

For the seventh time in as many years, we were recognized as an outstanding top-tier law firm by U.S. News and World Report, while continuing to be recognized in Best Lawyers, SuperLawyers, AVVO, and elsewhere. One major non-legal project was a complete overhaul of our website to provide better access to our news and case law updates.

As noted in an earlier article, we are proud to welcome Attorney Edward J. Bryan as our newest partner. Ed has been practicing matrimonial law since 2011 and brings a deep collection of family law experience to the firm.

Managing Partner David McGrath has been active in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, attending their midyear meeting in the Bahamas, their annual meeting in Chicago, and the joint conference with the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in D.C. He also serves as treasurer of the AAML Connecticut Chapter. David has been similarly active with the Connecticut Bar Association Family Section, serving as faculty in the year-in-review, providing regular case law updates to the section, and serving as one of the co-authors of an Amicus Brief on R.H. v. M.H. for the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Early in 2023 Bruce Louden and Lou Pepe – former president of the Connecticut Bar Association and senior trial counsel in the Hartford office of McElroyDeutsch – founded “Lawyer Lifers,” a group of attorneys from greater Hartford and beyond who have been in private practice for at least the last 35 years and have no plans to retire. The group meets quarterly and has grown from an initial list of seventeen to over 60, including lawyers from Fairfield and New London counties. Bruce also continues his focus on encouraging the growth of mediation and collaborative work. (More on this group in Bruce’s column, below.)

Attorney Robert Katz will be making a presentation in July 2024 at the 38th International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Barcelona, Spain. The Congress is held every two years sponsored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, bringing together an worldwide community of researchers, academics, practitioners and professionals in the fields of law and mental health. Attorney Katz will also participate in a panel discussion regarding the training of forensic experts in such areas as effective evaluation writing, persuasive testimony, and direct versus cross-examination.

Ashley Cervin was reappointed to the YLS Executive Committee for the CBA where she served as a Director. We are proud to report that she was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award for her extensive pro bono work, which contributed to the section reaching its annual goal of over 1,000 hours of pro bono services. Ashley organized a Confronting Cases with Coercive Control seminar and moderated the panel on the new Connecticut Parentage Act for the Connecticut Legal Conference while finding time to complete the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Training with the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce.

Kayleigh Bowman placed an emphasis on expanding her practice to include both mediation and collaborative divorce. Kayleigh completed both the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice Training and the 40-hour Mediation training with the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce expanding her skill set to approach each matter differently based on the unique facts of the case. Kayleigh was also selected as a 2023 Super Lawyers Rising Star, a recognition she has received since 2020.

We are thankful for our entire team and the good work they do with and for our clients. In 2023 our long-time loyal staff members Patrick Buckley and Cecilia Bayek were joined by paralegal Cassandra Angelo, who brought decades of family law experience to the firm, and Kyle Cannon who brings a welcome warmth and energy to our phones and reception area.

New support law went into effect January 1, 2024

New support law went into effect January 1, 2024

It is no secret that Covid-19 impacted how the Connecticut Family Court operated. The tremendous backlog of cases created at the height of the pandemic caused hearings to be delayed by four months or more. For families who were waiting for the court to issue temporary orders for financial support, the added delay was untenable.

To address this, the family court implemented (although not formally approved through the rules committee as of yet and not a part of the Practice Book) a new “Pathways” program which replaced Short Calendar in how motions are handled during a divorce. Pathways has had significant impacts on how and when individuals may get access to the courts. In many cases, some combination of the changing system and the backlog of cases has resulted in substantial delays in access to justice during divorce cases, and a sea change in how and when the courts may be accessed.

In reaction to these changes, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 23-7 (An Act Ensuring Timely Scheduling of Temporary Financial Support Hearings in Divorce and Custody Proceedings.), effective January 1, 2024, which set a maximum time limit of 60 days from when a motion for temporary alimony or support is filed to when the court must hold a hearing (although the law permits continuances with certain conditions attached). That law is now effective as part of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-83.

While many divorce and custody issues are indeed universal, every family’s situation truly is unique. In an ideal world, most divorcing couples could agree on the terms of any temporary support and their final settlement without needing to go to court. We pride ourselves on our depth of litigation experience, but staying ahead of potential problems and addressing them amicably is an important part of our commitment to doing all that we reasonably can to help our clients emerge positively from the divorce process.

Pin It on Pinterest