Winters v. Winters
A court need not find fraud to determine that an asset's change in value is a relevant factor in determining whether a substantial change in circumstances occurred. After 29 years of marriage, the plaintiff, Susan Winters, and the defendant, Bruce Winters, were divorced. The then unemployed defendant had worked as an information technology auditor earning approximately $230,000 annually. His personal assets, minus liabilities, totaled over one million dollars. The dissolution court ordered him to pay $1 per year in alimony and $55 per week in child support. The plaintiff later filed a post judgment motion to modify child and spousal support claiming a substantial change in the defendant's circumstances. The court summarily denied the motion. The plaintiff appealed contending that the court improperly denied the motion because it based its determination of no substantial change in circumstances on a flawed calculation of the defendant's available income. The Appellate Court agreed and reversed the judgment. The trial court's conclusion of no substantial change in circumstances was based, in part, on the court's finding that the money the defendant received from his new wife was a loan. However, the defendant repeatedly admitted he also received gifts from his new wife. Given the court's expressed reliance on the defendant's testimony, its conclusion that there was no credible evidence the defendant received gifts from his new wife, was clearly erroneous. While a spouse's regularly recurring gifts generally may not be used in the calculation of child support, the exception in the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies §46b-215a-3(b)(1)(D) may apply here. The court's conclusion of no substantial change in circumstances also was based, in part, on the court's determination that it could not consider the plaintiff's argument that the increase in the defendant's assets was evidence of unreported income, relying on the 2001 Appellate Court case of Simms v Simms. However, the fraud requirement n Simms is absent from the 2003 Supreme Court analysis in Gay v. Gay, which allows a court to consider the change in the value of an asset in analyzing whether a substantial change in circumstances occurred. The trial court had the discretion to assign the proper weight to the evidence of gifts and an $80,000 increase in the defendant's assets, but failed to exercise that discretion. The matter was remanded.