Judicial District of Fairfield


      Dissolution of Marriage; Contempt; Whether Evidence Supported Finding of Wilful Violation of Alimony Buyout Provision in Separation Agreement.

The plaintiff was obligated under the terms of a separation agreement incorporated into the parties’ dissolution judgment to pay the defendant an “alimony buyout” of $300,000 from his share of the marital estate in lieu of periodic alimony.  The defendant filed a motion for contempt, alleging that the plaintiff wilfully and deliberately violated the terms of the buyout provision by attempting to satisfy his obligation by transferring an IRA rollover to her.  She claimed that the tax consequences attendant to the IRA rollover would result in an alimony payment of approximately $170,000—substantially less than the amount stipulated in the separation agreement—and that the express terms of the agreement required a cash payment or a liquidation of assets that would result in a post-transfer payment equaling $300,000.  The trial court denied the motion, finding that the defendant had presented no evidence of wilful disobedience of a court order that would warrant a finding of contempt.  The Appellate Court (140 Conn. App. 81) affirmed, finding that the evidence of wilfulness consisted entirely of the defendant’s own testimony that she refused the proposed IRA transfer in payment of the plaintiff’s alimony obligation because, in her view, the transfer was economically less advantageous than the outright payment of $300,000 specified in the separation agreement.  The Appellate Court further found that in light of evidence that the plaintiff offered to pay the alimony buyout and a lack of evidence that his motive was to avoid satisfying the terms of the separation agreement, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the defendant had failed to prove that the plaintiff wilfully violated the agreement.  The Supreme Court granted the defendant certification to appeal and will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the evidence did not support a finding that the plaintiff wilfully failed to satisfy the terms of the alimony buyout provision by attempting to pay his obligations with assets worth less than the agreed upon amount.