California Landmark Cases on Trial Court's Exercise of Discretion

"In exercising discretion whether to modify a spousal support order, 'the court considers the same criteria set forth in Family Code section 4320 as it considered when making the initial order.'" (In re Marriage of Bower (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 893, 899 (Bower).) Family Code section 4320 sets forth numerous factors which the trial court must consider in making its award, including, among other things, the ability of the supporting party to pay, the needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage, the obligations and assets of each party, and the balance of hardships to each party. (Fam. Code, 4320, subds. (c)-(e), (j).) "'"Modification of spousal support . . . requires a material change of circumstances since the last order. "'" (Bower, supra, 96 Cal.App.4th at p. 899.) "If the only material change of circumstances since the last prior support order is an increase in the supporting spouse's ability to pay, support may be increased upon a showing that the amount of support previously ordered was not adequate to meet the supported spouse's reasonable needs at that time. Support may also be increased upon a showing of a dual change of circumstances since the last prior support order, consisting of (1) an increase in the supporting spouse's ability to pay, and (2) an increase in the supported spouse's post-separation needs (e.g., because of inflation) in order to maintain a standard of living comparable to the actual . . . marital standard of living. " (In re Marriage of Smith (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 469 at p. 495.) "It is an elementary rule of appellate procedure that, when reviewing the correctness of a trial court's judgment, an appellate court will consider only matters which were part of the record at the time the judgment was entered. This rule preserves the orderly system of appellate procedure by preventing litigants from circumventing the normal sequence of litigation. However, the rule is somewhat flexible; courts have not hesitated to consider postjudgment events ... when subsequent events have caused issues to become moot ." (Reserve Insurance Company v. Pisciotta (1982) 30 Cal.3d 800, 813.) It is the duty of an appellate court to decide actual controversies by a judgment, which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law that cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it. (Eye Dog Foundation v. State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind (1967) 67 Cal.2d 536, 541.) When, during the pendency of an appeal, an event occurs that renders it impossible for an appellate court, should it decide the case in favor of the appellant, to grant any effectual relief, the court will not proceed to a formal judgment, but will dismiss the appeal. (Ibid.; see In re Dani R. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 402, 404 questions involved become moot because of subsequent acts or events, and reversal in such a case would be without practical effect.)