Dan v. Dan: Modification of Alimony in Connecticut Divorce Cases

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

The following is a discussion and summary of a seminal case when dealing with the modification of alimony in the state of Connecticut. Dan v Dan, 315 Conn. 1 (2014) has created quite a stir in the Connecticut divorce bar. It is an important case for practitioners and clients dealing with post-judgment alimony issues to understand. Below is an analysis of the case.

In 2000, a judgment of divorce was entered. The parties had been married more than twenty-nine years. They had three children, all of whom had attained the age of majority before the divorce. At that time of divorce, the Defendant’s base salary was $696,000.  The Agreement provided for the Plaintiff to receive $15,000 per month in alimony, as well as a sum equal to 25% of any bonus income that the Defendant received. The parties also agreed that the Defendant’s alimony obligation would cease when he reached the age of sixty-five or his retirement, whichever occurred first. The Defendant was 50 years old at the time of the divorce and the Plaintiff was 51 years old.

Ten years later, in 2010, the Plaintiff filed a modification of alimony, claiming that her medical expenses had “skyrocketed” and the Defendant’s income had increased substantially.   The Court found that the Plaintiff had failed to prove a substantial change in her circumstances because of an increase in her out-of-pocket medical expenses. The Defendant stipulated during the hearing, however, that he had a substantial increase in his income since the divorce and that this constituted a substantial change in circumstances.

In 2010, the Defendant worked excessively long hours to earn an annual salary of $3.24 million and an additional $3 million from cashing out stock options. At the time of the post-judgment proceeding, the Plaintiff was 61 years old, the Defendant 60 years old. Though the Plaintiff had several health problems, including diabetes that was poorly controlled, this was a circumstance which had existed at the time of the divorce. (The Plaintiff had no college degree and although she had once worked as a receptionist and executive assistant, she had not been employed since 1977.)

After addressing the statutory factors set forth in § 46b–82, the trial court granted the Plaintiff’s motion and increased the Plaintiff’s alimony award from $15,000 to $40,000 per month, plus 25% of any bonus in come that the Defendant received. The court modified the term of alimony to lifetime. In making its decision, the trial court focused on the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the station and occupation of the parties, the amount and sources of income of each party, and the vocational skills of each party.

 The Supreme Court held that in the absence of certain exceptional circumstances, a substantial change in income standing alone was not sufficient to grant a motion to modify alimony.   The Court set forth a new inquiry to consider when the only substantial change is an increase in payor’s income: (1) Was the original award sufficient to fulfill the original purpose? (2) Does the award continue to fulfill the original purpose? The decision does not discuss in detail what exceptional circumstances might be.

In determining whether an alimony award should be modified when there has only been an increase in the payor spouse’s income, the trial court can only consider: the length of the marriage, the cause of the divorce, and the age, station, vocational skills and employability of the parties. However, these factors shall only be considered in the context of determining the initial intent of the alimony award.  They should not be considered as reasons for altering the purpose of the initial award.  The trial court does not have the discretion to retry issues that have already been decided.

The Supreme Court remanded for a new hearing because the trial court did not address the issue of whether exceptional circumstances existed in this case to justify a modification upward of alimony. The Supreme Court surmised that the original purpose of alimony in this case was to allow the Plaintiff to maintain the standard of living she had during the marriage. The trial court made no finding as to whether the original award continued to be sufficient to meet the original purpose of allowing the Plaintiff to maintain the standard of living she had during the marriage, which is a different question than whether her expenses are met.