CAROL L. ISHAM v. F. LANCE ISHAM, SC 18270
Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk
Dissolution of Marriage; Whether "Salary," as Used in Dissolution Agreement, Includes Total Annual Compensation from Employment; Whether the Meaning of "Salary" was Ambiguous such that Extrinsic Evidence of its Meaning was Admissible. The parties' marriage was dissolved in 1993. At that time, the plaintiff's counsel read the parties' separation agreement into the record, and it was made a part of the judgment. With regard to alimony, the parties agreed that the defendant would pay the plaintiff $150,000 for the first year, $160,000 for the next two years and $150,000 per year thereafter. The agreement further provided that any time that the defendant's salary increased by $100,000, his alimony obligation to the plaintiff would increase by $20,000. Following the parties' divorce, the defendant's employer became a publicly traded company and he received several promotions. While he experienced some increases in his regular base salary, the defendant experienced substantial increases in his total annual compensation from his employment, including bonuses, stock options and deferred compensation. In 2001, the plaintiff filed a "motion to modify and for contempt and to compel." In her motion, she claimed that the defendant was improperly basing his alimony payments on his regular base salary, not on his total annual compensation from his employment. The plaintiff sought an order finding the defendant in contempt of the dissolution judgment, modifying the dissolution judgment to reflect the defendant's alimony obligation based on his total annual income from his employment and establishing an alimony arrearage as a result of the defendant's improper calculation of his alimony obligation. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the clear and unambiguous language of the dissolution agreement provides that alimony increases are tied to increases in salary, not other forms of income received by the defendant. In challenging that finding, the plaintiff claims that, because the meaning of the word "salary" as used in the dissolution agreement is undefined and ambiguous, the trial court improperly refused to allow extrinsic evidence regarding the meaning of the alimony provision and the parties' intention in entering into the agreement.