JOAN LAFRANCE v. DEAN W. LODMELL, SC 19614/19615
Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk
Dissolution of Marriage; Whether Court Properly Limited Issues Submitted to Arbitration; Whether Court Properly Reviewed Fairness of Premarital Agreement as to Disposition of Marital Property under General Statutes § 46b-66. The parties entered into a premarital agreement fixing "the interest, rights and claims that may accrue to each of them in the property or estate of the other," and the agreement specified that any dispute arising under the agreement would be submitted to arbitration. After the plaintiff brought this divorce action, the defendant filed a request for arbitration, claiming that the plaintiff failed to comply with the terms of the agreement regarding the sale of the marital residence. The defendant also sought arbitration of claims that he was entitled to damages for breach of contract and tort. The plaintiff sought that the trial court conduct an inquiry under General Statutes § 46b-66 (c) before any submission for arbitration was made. Section 46b-66 (c) provides that, before arbitration pursuant to "any agreement to arbitrate in an action for dissolution of marriage" may proceed, the court must conduct a "thorough inquiry" into whether the agreement was entered into voluntarily and into whether the agreement is fair and equitable. The court found that it should determine which claims were arbitrable under the agreement and ruled that the only matters to be resolved by arbitration were the procedure for selling the house and the division of the proceeds of the sale. The arbitrator subsequently issued awards, and the court confirmed them. The court then denied the defendant leave to file a cross complaint asserting the contract and tort claims that he had not been permitted to raise in the arbitration proceeding, finding that the prior ruling regarding arbitrability was the law of the case and that those claims appropriately were pursued in a separate action. The court then dissolved the marriage, incorporated the arbitration awards into the judgment, and issued financial orders. These are the defendant’s appeals from the judgment on the arbitration awards and from the judgment of dissolution. The defendant claims that the parties’ agreement unambiguously requires that a dispute over any subject of the agreement—including the distribution of the marital property—be submitted to arbitration and that the trial court wrongly limited the issues to be arbitrated. He asserts that § 46b-66 (c) is not applicable to premarital agreements to arbitrate as they are not entered into "in an action for dissolution of marriage" and that the statute clearly contemplates an inquiry into the fairness of a private contractual agreement to arbitrate only if it has been incorporated into a divorce judgment or if the parties agree to arbitrate after one of them has filed for divorce. He further maintains that, even if § 46b-66 (c) applies, the agreement to arbitrate was entered into without coercion and was fair such that the trial court should have enforced the agreement and given the parties full control over the issues to be arbitrated, noting that the statute envisions a "thorough inquiry" into the fairness of the agreement, and not the issues to be arbitrated. The defendant also contends that it was improper for the court not to allow his contract and tort claims to be asserted in this action where, he claims, he would be precluded from raising them in any other forum. Finally, he argues that, insofar as the premarital agreement entirely governed the distribution of the parties’ property, the trial court erred in enforcing any part of the arbitrator’s award that exceeded the terms of the agreement.