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Wide discretion is vested in the trial court in determining the amount and duration of spousal support. In order not to be arbitrary, discretion must be exercised along legal lines, taking into consideration the circumstances of the parties, their necessities and the financial ability of the husband. Discretion is abused whenever, in its exercise, the court exceeds the bounds of reason, all circumstances before it being considered.
A couple, in their 40's when married, separated after 70 months without having had children. The wife had sustained brain damage two years prior to the separation that left her mentally impaired, unable to continue in her employment as a bartender, and virtually without marketable skills. A stipulated interlocutory judgment had provided for a two-year period of spousal support, subject to further review, and support was continued thereafter. In a further hearing the trial court terminated support, ruling that the husband, having supported his former wife for 58 months, no longer was obligated to support her, notwithstanding the husband had the earning capacity to continue to make support payments and the wife had a need for such payments because she was disabled and could not regain her previous income earning status. The wife appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the former husband still have the legal obligation to support his former spouse?
The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that there had been no abuse of discretion since the trial court had considered the totality of the circumstances by weighing all eight factors in Civ. Code, § 4801. The court held that although there was no evidence that the wife could be self-supporting, the marriage was not lengthy and the wife was not a typical "displaced homemaker," but rather had an established lifestyle at the time of the marriage.