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Gnall v. Gnall - 222 N.J. 414, 119 A.3d 891 (2015)

Rule:

When alimony is requested, N.J.S.A. § 2A:34-23(b) requires that the court consider and make specific findings regarding: (1) the actual need and ability of the parties to pay; (2) the duration of the marriage or civil union; (3) the age, physical and emotional health of the parties; (4) the standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living; (5) the earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties; (6) the length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance; (7) the parental responsibilities for the children; (8) the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment; (9) the history of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities; (10) the equitable distribution of property ordered; (11) the income available to either party through investment of any assets held by that party; (12) the tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award; (13) any other factors which the court may deem relevant.

Facts:

Elizabeth Gnall and James Gnall were married for almost 15 years when plaintiff Elizabeth filed a complaint for divorce. At the time of their marriage, Elizabeth had obtained a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in computer science. Initially, Elizabeth worked as a computer programmer until the couple had children, and decided that it would be best if Elizabeth stopped working in order to remain at home to care for the children full-time. After Elizabeth stopped working, James was the sole wage earner of the family, making over $1,000,000 annually. In addressing Elizabeth’s request for alimony, the trial judge considered the requisite statutory factors for alimony stated in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b), and made specific findings of fact relating to each factor. The judge found that permanent alimony was not appropriate due to the relatively young age of the parties, their educational levels, and the duration of the marriage. The court noted that while the marriage certainly was not short-term, neither was it a 25 to 30-year marriage. The court also stated that the parties were not married long enough to warrant holding James responsible for maintaining the marital lifestyle for plaintiff Elizabeth. The court therefore awarded Elizabeth limited duration alimony in the amount of $18,000 per month, for a period of 11 years. Elizabeth appealed the award, contending that she was entitled to permanent alimony based on the length of the marriage and her diminished employability since she had been at home caring for the parties' children since 1999. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded for an evaluation of an award of permanent alimony. The court stated that a 15-year marriage is not short-term, further stating that this conclusion precluded an award of limited duration alimony. James sought further appellate review by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Issue:

Did a 15-year marriage preclude an award of limited duration alimony, thereby warranting plaintiff Elizabeth permanent alimony based solely on the length of the parties’ marriage?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that in determining a request for alimony, all of the factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) must be considered, and the duration of the marriage was only one such factor. As such, the Appellate Division erroneously created a bright-line rule that a 15-year marriage required an award of permanent alimony, contrary to the need to consider all of the statutory factors. However, the Court also held that the trial court improperly relied upon the duration of the marriage over the other statutory factors in determining that, since the marriage was not one of 25 to 30 years, permanent alimony was not warranted, and therefore awarded limited duration alimony.

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