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.

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