Trial Courts, Per Statute, Must Articulate Basis for Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

Appellate Court of Connecticut: Post-Judgment Divorce Action

In a post-judgment divorce action, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a lower court’s child support order for failure to explain the basis for deviation from the child support guidelines. Because the Appellate Court was left to speculate as to the relationship of the order to the other financial orders rendered, the entire case was remanded for a new trial as to all financial orders.

The plaintiff and defendant were married in November 1990 and had two minor children. Each had substantial income and assets available to them. In 2005 and 2006, the defendant had an income of $530,000 and $945,000 respectively, and had assets in two businesses valued at nearly $4 million. The plaintiff earned a base compensation of $200,000 with a bonus of $1.5 million in each year 2006 and 2007, and was expected to earn similar amounts in 2009 and 2010. In 2006, the plaintiff filed a dissolution action and the defendant filed an answer and cross complaint. Following trial in January 2009, the trial court dissolved the marriage, adopted an agreed parenting plan, and set forth various financial orders. The defendant requested reconsideration on the decisions regarding alimony, asset division, and attorney’s fees, in part stating that $250 per week in child support of each child was insufficient. However, the court denied these requests, prompting the defendant to appeal.

Appellate v. Trial Court: Family Matters 

When reviewing family matters, an appellate court will generally not disturb a trial court’s orders unless the court has abused its discretion or if it is found that the court could not have reasonably concluded as it did. In the State of Connecticut, the legislature has enacted statutes and regulations that govern child support. These include child support guidelines that must be considered in all determinations of child support amounts, regardless of family income level. Should a court find that the application of the guidelines would be inequitable or inappropriate, it must articulate why deviation from the child support guidelines is necessary to meet the needs of the child. In the case of high income families, courts may not disregard the principles of the guidelines, for doing so would deprive these families of the fairness and consistency the guidelines themselves require.

Case Outcome

In this case, the Appellate Court could not conclude that the child support order tailored by the trial court was proper. Upon reviewing the record, it appeared the trial court failed to follow the guideline tables; in fact, the memorandum of decision was devoid of any reference to the guidelines whatsoever. The Appellate Court was left with mere speculation regarding the basis for the trial court’s determination and therefore found that the trial court violated statutory provisions mandating an articulation for deviation from the child support guidelines. Because the Appellate Court could not determine whether the child support order was severable from the other financial orders in the lower court’s decision, the case was remanded for a new trial as to all financial orders.

Whether advancing or defending a 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.