Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Gnall v. Gnall. In short, the issue before the court was whether a marriage of 15 years could result in limited duration alimony or whether it must result in permanent alimony (now known as open duration alimony). In order to understand the case and its holding, it is important to understand that there are four types of alimony in New Jersey.
- Open Durational Alimony allows the dependent spouse, after a marriage of more than 20 years, where there was economic interdependence, to live a substantially similar lifestyle to the marital lifestyle with no pre-defined end date.
- Limited Duration Alimony addresses the dependent spouse’s needs to maintain a lifestyle similar to that enjoyed during a short to moderate length marriage of less than 20 years, where economic assistance for a limited time would be fair and equitable under the circumstances. The term cannot exceed the length of the marriage.
- Rehabilitative Alimony provides financial support to one spouse while he or she prepares to reenter the workforce through training or education in order to improve their earning capacity and therefore become economically self-sufficient.
- Reimbursement Alimony is awarded when one spouse made financial sacrifices to allow the other spouse to secure an advanced degree, license, or otherwise enhance the parties’ future standard of living.
Under the alimony statute, the trial court must consider thirteen separate factors in determining an alimony award. These factors include: (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; and (13) any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
In Gnall, the New Jersey Supreme Court took note of the fact that the trial court did not properly consider all of the necessary factors listed above, but instead made its decision solely on the length of the marriage. The trial court made a finding that indicated that only marriages lasting twenty-five years or more would be appropriate for permanent alimony, and therefore awarded limited duration alimony. The Appellate Division reversed and made a non-purposeful bright line rule that a fifteen year marriage warrants permanent alimony. Neither decision indicated that the length of the marriage was considered, along with the other factors, in reaching those conclusions. Case law consistently stands for the idea that all thirteen factors must be considered and given due weight; the NJ Supreme Court continues to stand by this principle. Therefore, the NJ Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s holding and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new determination of alimony.
What does this case mean for you? Our new alimony law does not allow a court to order open duration alimony (formally permanent alimony) unless the marriage lasted 20 years or more, except in exceptional circumstances. In marriages of 20 years or less, only limited durational, rehabilitative and reimbursement alimony can be awarded, with the terms not exceeding the length of the marriage, again except in exceptional circumstances. Applying this new case to our new alimony law, it is clear that in marriages of 20 years or less, there is no mathematical formula for the duration of an alimony award due to the specific length of a marriage. The NJ Supreme Court has restated the principle that trial court must consider all of the thirteen statutory factors in determining the duration, amount and type of alimony award.
If you have any questions on how this case may affect your situation, contact the NJ Divorce Lawyers and NJ Family Law Attorneys at Previte & Nachlinger for an initial consultation.
Our associate, Marissa Hirsch, Esq., contributed to this blog article.