The Connecticut Appellate Court broadened a trial court’s ability to address bad acts of a party prior to the actual filing of a divorce action in Parlato v. Parlato, 134 Conn.App. 848 (2012). Mr. Parlato appealed from a finding of contempt based on his failure to comply with a pendente lite order requiring him to return money which he withdrew from the parties’ joint home equity line of credit. In fact, Mr. Parlato had withdrawn this money four weeks prior to being served with the dissolution complaint. He had done so without the knowledge or consent of Mrs. Parlato. Mr. Parlato claimed that the money was to repay an eleven-year old debt to his children. He claimed a small amount of the money had been used to pay marital expenses. He also said he was giving the money to his daughter to help her through financial difficulties. The varying stories did not add up, and the trial court did not find Mr. Parlato to be credible.
The court ordered that Mr. Parlato return the money within two weeks or be held in contempt. Mr. Parlato did not return the money and a hearing was held at which he and his daughter both testified. In particular, the daughter testified that the money was brought to her in a box as a gift and she was told not to open it until after she had finished preparing her financial affidavit in her own divorce case. The trial court did not find them credible, ordered Mr. Parlato held in contempt, and required that he post a bond of $125,000 or be incarcerated. When he did not pay the bond by the appointed time, Mr. Parlato was incarcerated.
The Appellate Court framed the trial court’s orders in terms of the automatic orders which go into effect upon institution of the divorce action, rather than a dissipation claim: “Although the defendant’s attempt at concealment and protection began before the automatic orders took effect, it continued after the orders were in place and, therefore, was a violation of those orders.” The trial court’s findings supported such a holding, and on this basis the Appellate Court upheld the ability of the trial court to require Mr. Parlato to return these funds and find him in contempt when he did not comply.
Sarah Stark Oldham is a divorce lawyer with Rutkin, Oldham & Griffin, L.L.C. and a Fellow of both the International and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.