Bauer v. Bauer
A motion for clarification was the proper method for resolving an ambiguous judgment because the motion did not seek to change the terms or substance of the judgment, but merely sought to resolve the ambiguity in the judgment by reconciling a discrepancy between the court's factual findings and its orders. The trial court, Alvord, J., rendered judgment dissolving the marriage of the plaintiff, Barbara Bauer, and the defendant, Steven Bauer. The judgment noted: "memorandum of decision incorporated by reference." In the memorandum, the court indicated that the parties agreed to split equally the defendant's pension and annuity 403(b) plans. The court issued 12 orders but did not refer to the pension accounts. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt and then a motion for clarification regarding the award of pension accounts. The trial court granted the motion for clarification and ordered the defendant to divide his pension accounts equally with the plaintiff. The defendant appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment determining that the trial court's judgment granting the motion for clarification constituted an improper modification of the dissolution judgment. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that there was no ambiguity in the orders regarding pension accounts that required clarification and incorrectly determined that the clarification was an improper modification of the dissolution judgment. The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court's judgment, concluding that the trial court clarified rather than modified its judgment. The clarification did not alter the substantive terms of the judgment and, therefore, did not constitute an improper modification. The factual finding indicating that the parties agreed to split the pension accounts directly contradicted the lack of a formal order to that effect. Given the discrepancy, the judgment was ambiguous. A motion for clarification was the proper method to resolve the ambiguity. Although the defendant claimed that the court's clarification created a 13th order that enriched the plaintiff to his detriment, this was not a case in which the court was completely silent with respect to the award of the pension accounts; rather, the memorandum of decision expressly stated that the parties agreed to divide the accounts equally. The clarification merely gave effect to that statement. The trial court's interpretation was reasonable.