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The Court Reinforces the Importance of the Alimony Factors

Gnall v. Gnall, 222 N.J. 414 (2015) stems from a fifteen year marriage that ended in divorce. The trial judge found, among other considerations, 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 judge determined that the marriage "certainly was not short-term, but neither [was it] a twenty-five to thirty-year marriage." The trial Court awarded the Wife limited duration alimony for a period of eleven years. The Wife appealed, arguing she was entitled to permanent alimony. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded the case for an award of permanent alimony, reasoning that a fifteen-year marriage is "not short-term," therefore precluding "consideration of an award of limited duration alimony."

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter for new findings of fact and a new determination of alimony. The Court criticized both the trial Court and Appellate Court for focusing on one factor - duration of the marriage:

... We find that the trial court did not consider and weigh all of the necessary factors required by N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 in determining that permanent alimony was unwarranted but, instead, based its decision solely on N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b)(2). We further conclude that in reversing the Appellate Division inadvertently created a bright-line rule requiring an award of permanent alimony.

Our cases have consistently held that all thirteen factors must be considered and given due weight, and the duration of marriage is only one factor to be considered.

The Court reinforced prior decisions that no one alimony factor bears more weight than the other. Family law practitioners and the Courts must consider all thirteen factors when making an alimony award determination.

Of significant note, this case was originally decided by the trial Court before the amended alimony statute passed on September 10, 2014. In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court quickly dismissed the amended statute as "not applicable to this case" and relegated its comment to a footnote which said:

N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(c) was amended on September 10, 2014 to specify that "[f]or any marriage or civil union less than 20 years in duration, the total duration of alimony shall not, except in exceptional circumstances, exceed the length of the marriage or civil union. . . ." The amendment is not applicable to this case.

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