Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
In a recent dissolution action, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a trial court’s finding of contempt when the defendant refused to return marital assets pursuant to a pendente lite automatic order.
On January 3, 2011, the defendant husband withdrew $250,000 from the parties’ joint home equity line of credit without the plaintiff wife’s knowledge or consent. Later that month, the wife served the husband with her complaint seeking dissolution of the marriage. In March 2011, the wife filed a motion for order pendente lite, in which she asked the court to order the husband to return the monies he withdrew. The husband claimed stated that he withdrew the money to repay a loan to his daughter. The husband’s daughter testified to similar effect. However, the court was not persuaded, and the court granted the wife’s motion with a return date of April 4, 2011. When the husband failed to comply, the court found him in contempt and he was later arrested. He filed an appeal, claiming the court abused its discretion because “the finding of contempt was based on the violation of an order that the court was without authority to issue.”
Courts enjoy “wide discretion and broad equitable power” to effectuate the goal of providing appropriate relief in domestic relations cases. Court orders must be obeyed until either modified or successfully challenged, and willful violation of an order of the court constitutes contempt. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court had authority to order the husband to pay back the $250,000, and because he failed to comply, a finding of contempt was not an abuse of discretion.
Trial courts are in the best position to assign the weight of credibility to a party’s testimony. Therefore, in this case, when the trial court elected to find the husband’s and his daughter’s claims to be unreliable, the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The Appellate Court found that it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that the husband and his daughter were “engaged in a scheme to conceal and protect marital assets that had been taken by the defendant for no valid reason or purpose.” Furthermore, even though the husband withdrew the money before the pendente lite period began, his attempts to conceal the money continued after the orders were in place. It was immaterial that he did not actually possess the money – he bore the consequences of his conduct. Therefore, a finding that he was in violation of the orders was proper.
Whether advancing or defending a pre- or post-judgment motion regarding awards of alimony, assignment of property, and child support, 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.
Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.
If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.
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