In a California paternity or dissolution action, can you request relief in excess of that plead in your initial petition if your spouse fails to file a response and their default is subsequently taken?

This issue was addressed in Sass vs. Cohen (3/8/19). In this the Court held that

the judgment exceeded the “type and amount of relief” sought in the operative pleadings. It said:

 

This case presents two unsettled questions: (1) May a default judgment be entered for an amount in excess of the demand in the operative pleadings when the plaintiff seeks an accounting or valuation of a business; and (2) Should the comparison of whether a default judgment exceeds the amount of compensatory damages demanded in the operative pleadings examine the aggregate amount of non-duplicative damages or instead proceed on a claim-by-claim or item-by-item basis? We hold that actions alleging an accounting claim or otherwise involving the valuation of assets are not excused from limitations on default judgments and, in so doing, add our voice to the growing chorus of cases so holding. We also hold that the amounts of damages awarded and demanded are to be compared on an aggregate basis.

Applying these principles, the default judgment awarding compensatory damages of $2,806,532 in this case exceeds the $987,500 in compensatory damages specified in the operative complaint. It is void to the extent of the overage, and we remand to the trial court to determine whether to give the plaintiff the option to accept a modified default judgment in this reduced amount or to amend her complaint to demand greater relief (thereby giving the defendant an opportunity to avoid a default by responding to her amended pleading).

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