In a post-judgment divorce action, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport considered a defendant’s claim that the plaintiff was in contempt of court orders for failure to support his children as outlined in their separation agreement.
In this case, the plaintiff husband and the defendant wife were divorced in August 2007. They interested into a separation agreement in September 2008, which was incorporated into the dissolution decree on October 1, 2008. The separation agreement contained provisions requiring the husband to pay $115 per week in child support, and there was no provision stating that the husband’s obligation would cease “once payment of [his social security] … dependant benefits commenced.” Subsequently, the wife filed a series of motions for contempt, in part claiming the husband failed to pay his child support payments pursuant to the separation agreement. This argument is discussed below.
Under Connecticut case law, civil contempt constitutes “noncompliance with court rules, orders, judgments or mandates, but not statutes.” Courts will not find a person in contempt without first considering the circumstances surrounding the purported violation to establish whether the party’s conduct was willful. With respect to a parent’s child support obligation, courts have found that under certain circumstances, such obligation can be partly or entirely fulfilled by dependency payments paid on behalf of the child. However, if a parent credits this benefit toward his support obligation, it must be included in his gross annual income, which is used to determine the amount of child support he must pay pursuant to the child support guidelines.
In this case, the court noted that the husband paid the required weekly child support payment up until he started to receive his Social Security Disability Act (SSDA) benefits. At this point, the husband made SSDA payments directly to the wife, which he claimed exceeded his child support obligations, for the benefit of the minor child. The court stated that the husband should have moved for modification to include these benefits, but his failure to do so, in light of the above facts, did not constitute contempt. Therefore, the motion for contempt for nonpayment of child support was denied.
Whether advancing or defending a post-judgment motion involving the enforcement or modification of a separation agreement, a divorced individual is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.
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