How is the length of an alimony award determined?

How Length of Marriage Factors into Alimony Awards

It is a commonly held misconception that marriages lasting more than ten years constitute automatic permanent alimony awards.  Although ten years is by no means short term, it is not a sole determinant that parties can be expected to pay lifetime support to their former spouse.  A recent New Jersey case explores how length of marriage factors into alimony awards.

Recent New Jersey Case Law

The most recent New Jersey case on the subject of permanent alimony comes from the New Jersey Supreme Court.  In Gnall v. Gnall, No. 073321 (N.J. July 29, 2015), the court was asked to consider prior rulings regarding whether permanent or limited duration alimony was appropriate to the matter.  In addition, the Supreme Court rendered a decision on whether the Appellate Division properly established a bright line ruling as far as differentiating between short and long term marriages.   Bright line rulings help distinguish vague issues in the law.

The Gnall matter involves a couple who wed fifteen years prior to filing for divorce.  Irreconcilable differences were cited by both parties, and disputed by neither.  At the trial level, the judge determined that the wife was entitled to alimony for eleven years.  In this case, the husband earned in excess of one million dollars.  His wife was a stay at home mom, with no income of her own.

In making its determination, the trial court determined that fifteen years was not a short term union.  However, in no way did it equate to marriages that lasted more than a couple of decades.  The husband should not be held responsible for maintaining his former spouse’s current lifestyle on a permanent basis.

The wife objected and brought the case to the Appellate Division.  The Appellate Court determined that the trial court needed to apply all factors pertinent to determining the length of alimony payments.  You may review some of the other considerations in an article we recently wrote on this subject.  Still others are outlined in the statutory language

After reviewing this case, the Appellate Division made a decision that a fifteen year marriage is not short-term.  Therefore, it should not be viewed as the sole reason for denying permanent alimony.  The Supreme Court disagreed, citing N.J.S.A. 2A:34–23.  The law does not mandate permanent alimony solely based on duration of marriage.  It also does not define the length of marriage eligible for lifetime support.  The Gnall case was remanded to the trial court for new findings of fact and determination of alimony.

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Family law is often a complex issue involving both legal and financial knowledge. Sam Stoia’s diverse experience in law and finance enables him to cut to the core of money matters.  Sam is a dedicated and determined advocate who charges no fee for initial consultations.  Contact Sam to schedule an appointment to discuss the particulars of your matter.

How is the length of an alimony award determined?

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