Tanzman v. Meurer
A trial court that bases a financial support order on a party's earning capacity must determine the specific dollar amount of the party's earning capacity. In 2006, the trial court dissolved the marriage of the plaintiff, Jonathan Tanzman, and the defendant, Margaret Meurer, and entered an order requiring the plaintiff to pay the defendant $16,000 per month in unallocated alimony and child support for 14 years. The court found that the plaintiff's earning capacity far exceeded his then current income, but did not specify the amount of his earning capacity. The court concluded that the plaintiff, whose prior yearly earnings averaging $988,064.43 as a day trader fell with industry changes, did not make satisfactory efforts toward gaining new employment. In 2008, the plaintiff filed a motion to modify the support order, representing that he obtained employment at an annual salary of $100,000. The court denied the motion and denied the plaintiff's motions for articulation and clarification concerning his earning capacity. The Appellate Court granted the plaintiff's motions for review and, ultimately, affirmed the trial court's judgment. The majority of the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court's judgment, concluding that it improperly determined that the trial court was not required to specify the earning capacity amount it relied on in determining alimony and child support, after motions for articulation and clarification were filed requesting the information. The majority ruled, pursuant to the court's inherent supervisory authority, that when a trial court has based a financial award pursuant to C.G.S. §46b-82 or §46b-86 on a party's earning capacity, the court must determine the specific dollar amount of that earning capacity. The trial court could not reasonably have concluded that there had been no substantial change in the plaintiff's earning capacity, without ever having determined the plaintiff's specific earning capacity. Absent a baseline to which the current circumstances can be compared, a party attempting to prove a substantial change of circumstances is effectively playing a game of blindman's bluff, a situation hardly consistent with the orderly administration of justice. The matter was remanded for a new hearing on the motion and determination of the plaintiff's earning capacity at the time of the original award and filing of the motion for modification. Justice Eveleigh, with whom Justice Vertefeuille joined, dissented, disagreeing with the use of supervisory authority.