In a Divorce a Sanction Award Requires a Specific Factual Basis

The Appellate Court reversed a divorce court that ordered a husband to pay his wife $275,000 in sanctions for his breach of fiduciary duty and his failure to respond to formal discovery about the breach in the divorce action after husband’s divorce lawyer appealed the judgment.

The wife’s divorce attorney checked the box marked “Other” and typed in “Relief for breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to Family Code sections 1100 et seq.”  However, she did not set out the “facts” supporting her claim.  She did not set out, in the pleadings, the “amount” of relief she was requesting.

The Appellate Court held that California Code of Civil Procedure § 580(a) requires that relief granted in a default divorce proceeding may not be granted in an amount that exceeds the amount requested.  Due process requires that a defendant have adequate notice of the maximum possible adverse judgment. 

In re Marriage of Kahn (2013) 215 Cal. App. 4th 1113