Horton v. Horton – Case Brief Summary (California)

In Horton v. Horton (1941) 18 Cal.2d 579, wife sued husband for separate maintenance. Wife did not specify an amount, but asked the court to award her "'a reasonable sum'" for support, plus attorney fees and costs. (Id. at p. 581.)

Husband defaulted, and the court entered judgment awarding wife $ 200 per month for separate maintenance and support, $ 400 in attorney fees, $ 10 for costs, and certain real property described in the complaint. (Ibid.)

The trial court denied husband's motion to set aside the default, and the Supreme Court affirmed. (Id. at pp. 582, 586.)

It distinguished cases concerned with awards which "the respective complaints either failed entirely to mention or included in limited terms narrower in range than the pertinent provisions of the decree." (Id. at p. 582.)

The Supreme Court continued:

"The wife's complaint expressly put in issue the reasonableness of the sum necessary for support and maintenance by the allegation that the husband was 'capable of and actually earning in excess of $ 500.00 per month' and the itemization of the community property, described in considerable detail as to kind, location and value. These averments in conjunction with the specific demands of the prayer for 'a reasonable sum' for support and maintenance, for 'a reasonable sum' for attorney fees and costs, and for an order restraining dissipation of the assets by the husband were sufficient to notify him that the disposition of the community property and his ability to make the payments requested were issuable facts. On this basis the court, after determination of the amount necessary for her maintenance, awarded to the wife $ 200 per month, together with the family home and one automobile as her proper share of the listed community property measured in terms of monetary equivalence. . . . In such an action for separate maintenance, the purpose of which is to enforce specifically the husband's obligation to furnish support to his wife, it is well settled that the amount to be granted is largely within the discretion of the trial court, subject to revision only in case of abuse, . . ." (Id. at p. 583.)