MARIANNE OLSON v. FUSAINI MOHAMMADU, SC 18963
Judicial District of Hartford
Dissolution of Marriage; Motions to Modify; Whether Trial Court Properly Denied Defendant's Motion to Modify his Support Obligations on the Ground that his Reduced Salary Resulted from his Voluntary Decision to Move to Connecticut to be Closer to his Child. The parties were divorced in 2009. In its judgment of dissolution, the trial court ordered that the plaintiff would have primary physical custody of the parties' minor child and that the defendant would have reasonable visitation rights. The court also ordered the defendant to pay weekly child support and alimony. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to modify his alimony and child support obligations, claiming that there had been a substantial change in circumstances. He explained that, although he had been living in Florida at the time of the judgment of dissolution, he subsequently moved to Connecticut in order to be closer to the child and that as a result of the relocation, he obtained new employment at a substantially reduced salary. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the defendant's reduced salary did not constitute a substantial change in circumstances because the reduction resulted from the defendant's voluntary decision to move to Connecticut. On appeal, the defendant argued that the court improperly denied his motion to modify. In affirming the trial court's decision, the Appellate Court (134 Conn. App. 252) noted that, pursuant to Sanchione v. Sanchione, 173 Conn. 397, 407 (1977), a party's inability to pay a support order does not automatically entitle the party to a reduction in the award where the inability to pay resulted from the party's "own extravagance, neglect, misconduct or other unacceptable reason. . . ." In light of that case law, the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court reasonably determined that the defendant's unilateral action in moving to Connecticut and accepting a lower paying position in disregard of his financial obligations constituted an "unacceptable reason" for his inability to satisfy those obligations. The Appellate Court further opined that, in concluding that the defendant had failed to establish that there had been a substantial change in circumstances, the trial court properly declined to consider his alleged parental motivations for moving to Connecticut. It reasoned that evidence of the defendant's motivations for the relocation would have been relevant only if he had cleared the threshold hurdle of establishing that there had been a substantial change in circumstances. Because the defendant had failed to overcome his initial burden, the Appellate Court explained, the trial court was not required to proceed to the second inquiry, namely, whether a modification would have been appropriate in light of the causes for the defendant's relocation. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court properly denied the defendant's motion to modify his alimony and child support obligations.