D.S. v. D.S., SC 20830

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford


Dissolution; Alimony; Property Distribution; Whether Defendant's Interest in Law Firm Retirement Plan Qualified as Marital Property Subject to Equitable Distribution; Whether Trial Court Abused Its Discretion in Awarding Alimony (1) Terminable at Defendant's Sole Discretion and (2) Specific to Her Employment at Particular Law Firm. The plaintiff husband commenced an action to dissolve his marriage to the defendant wife. At the time of the action, the plaintiff, despite his credentials and past employment, had not worked for an employer for over a decade and had no earned income. The defendant, in contrast, was a partner at a large international law firm, where the terms of her partnership agreement potentially entitled her to a future stream of retirement income. After years of litigation, the trial court rendered a dissolution judgment. It specifically determined in relevant part that the defendant's potential stream of retirement income under her partnership agreement was not property subject to equitable distribution under General Statutes 46b-81 because it was a mere expectancy and therefore did not meet the definition of property set forth in the statute. The trial court also concluded that the defendant was to pay alimony to the plaintiff but that her obligation "shall automatically terminate . . . when the defendant is no longer employed as an active partner of the [law firm]." The trial court further concluded that, if the defendant ceased to be employed by the law firm but received payments pursuant to her partnership agreement, she would instead pay 25 percent of her net after-tax income actually received to the plaintiff but that her obligation would "automatically terminate . . . when the defendant's receipt of income . . . under the [partnership agreement] ceases." The plaintiff appealed from the dissolution judgment, which the Appellate Court (217 Conn. App. 530) affirmed. The Appellate Court disagreed with the plaintiff that the trial court improperly excluded the defendant's prospective interest in partnership agreement-based retirement benefits from the property distribution orders because it was "sufficiently concrete, reasonable, and justifiable" for purposes of 46b-81. The court noted that the trial court had relied on the testimony of the defendant's expert witness, who explained the variables and uncertainties on which the defendant's receipt of retirement income would be conditioned and opined that the interest was "the epitome of a mere expectancy," and concluded that it did not disagree with the trial court regarding the speculative nature of the interest in light of the facts adduced at trial. The Appellate Court further disagreed with the plaintiff that the trial court's alimony order constituted an abuse of discretion. It noted the trial "court made several pertinent findings that find support in the record" regarding the parties' employment situations, the plaintiff's spending habits, and the basis for the breakdown of the parties' marriage and ultimately determined that the trial court "devised thoughtful and just alimony orders tailored to the parties' specific circumstances and abilities." The plaintiff has been granted certification to appeal from the Appellate Court's decision, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded (1) that the defendant's interest in her law firm's retirement plan was too uncertain to qualify as marital property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to 46b-81 and (2) the trial court had not abused its discretion in awarding alimony that (a) was terminable at the defendant's sole discretion, and (b) was specific to the defendant's employment at one particular firm.