The principal issue in this case is the extent to which alimony can be modified when an original award of alimony is limited to a specific period of time. When an original award does not unambiguously make its terms nonmodifiable, can a trial court, upon finding an unforeseeable substantial change in circumstances, substitute an order of periodic alimony in an amount that differs from that originally awarded?
The original action for dissolution of marriage in this case was brought by the plaintiff, Frank E. McCann, against the defendant, Doreen N. McCann. After finding that the marriage between the parties had broken
The plaintiff, in his appeal, does not dispute the underlying facts concerning his own financial resources or the defendant's needs. As the trial court found on the basis of the plaintiff's financial affidavits of September 4, 1980, and December 7, 1981, the plaintiff's gross salary increased by 35 percent and his net salary increased by 42 percent in a period of fifteen months. The defendant's needs arise out of her continuing but deteriorating physical condition. Since childhood, she has suffered from a degenerative lung condition diagnosed as severe chronic obstructive lung disease. This condition makes it impossible for the defendant to work and requires her to rely on expensive medication. At the original dissolution hearing, the defendant's financial affidavits indicated that, even after the plaintiff's payment of alimony, she would have an unmet need of $86.67 in paying her stated weekly
On this factual record, the trial court concluded that a motion for modification of the award of alimony should be granted. It determined that modification was not warranted for medical reasons because the defendant's unfortunate physical condition had existed prior to the dissolution hearing. It decided, however, that the dramatic increase in the plaintiff's earnings so far exceeded the prior evidence of regular salary increases as to constitute a substantial change of circumstances not contemplated at the time of the original decree. For the period until October 24, 1983, for which alimony had originally been ordered, the court increased the alimony award to $115 per week. Thereafter, the court ordered alimony of $50 per week.
The plaintiff's appeal raises three issues. He argues that the trial court erred in granting a motion for modification solely on the basis of the plaintiff's increased earnings. Even if some modification might otherwise be warranted, he maintains that the trial court failed to take into account the restrictive impact of the form of the original alimony order. Finally, he urges this court to establish guidelines to limit the scope of inquiry appropriate to hearings upon motions for modification of alimony. We find no error.
Our case law and our statute establish the ground rules that govern modification of periodic alimony. A party seeking modification must show "a substantial change in the circumstances of either party, occurring
The plaintiff does not take issue with the conclusion that our case law warrants affirmance of the order of the trial court. He argues, instead, that we should adopt the policy, reflected in the case law of other jurisdictions; see, e.g., Cole v. Cole, 44 Md.App. 435, 441, 409 A.2d 734 (1979); Feves v. Feves, 198 Or. 151, 163, 254 P.2d 694 (1953); that an increase in the income of the
The plaintiff's second claim, insofar as it contests the trial court's authority to extend indefinitely his obligation to pay alimony, has become moot. This court has been informed that the defendant died on July 2, 1983.
The plaintiff's remaining argument relates to the scope of the inquiry that is appropriate once a trial court has determined that there has been a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either of the parties. Despite our repeated holdings that "the same criteria that determine an initial award of alimony and support are relevant to the question of modification"; Hardisty v. Hardisty, supra, 259; Cummock v. Cummock, 180 Conn. 218, 221-22, 429 A.2d 474 (1980); Sanchione v. Sanchione, supra, 401-402; the plaintiff urges that a modification hearing should not reconsider such matters as the plaintiff's fault in the marital breakdown in determining the present needs and resources of the parties. Insofar as the plaintiff questions the specific evidentiary posture of his modification
There is no error.
In this opinion the other judges concurred.