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Gnall Decided

Editor-in-Chief’s Column

by Charles F. Vuotto Jr.

(See our related Podcast on Women and Divorce – Alimony)

 

In a prior column penned by this author, the following quote from the appellate court’s decision in Gnall was highlighted as giving rise to concern:

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We do not intend to draw specific lines delineating “short-term” and “long-term” marriages in an effort to define those cases warranting only limited duration rather than permanent alimony. We also underscore it is not merely the years from the wedding to the parties’ separation or commencement of divorce that dictates the applicability or inapplicability of permanent alimony. Nevertheless, we do not hesitate to declare a fifteen-year marriage is not short-term, a conclusion which precludes consideration of an award of limited duration alimony.1(Emphasis added)

***

This author previously stated that, “There is no question that this paragraph stands for the proposition that LDA cannot be awarded in a marriage of 15 years or more.”2 Whether this proposition was intended or unintended is left to conjecture.

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Gnall v. Gnall, the Court held that “the Appellate Division inadvertently created a bright-line rule for distinguishing between a short-term and long-term marriage as it pertains to an award of permanent alimony.”3 The Supreme Court reasoned that although the bright-line rule may not have been intended by the Appellate Division, “a fair reading of the opinion may lead to such a conclusion” because the Appellate Division did not clarify that the statement applied only to the 15-year marriage in the particular case.4 Further, the Appellate Division’s statement that a 15-year marriage was “not short-term” resulted in a mandate that it cannot be considered for limited duration alimony.5 The Court found this holding erroneously removed consideration of the other statutory factors for alimony where a marriage reaches the 15-year mark.6

The Supreme Court also found, however, 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.The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by improperly weighing the duration of the marriage over the other statutory factors and effectively determining that permanent alimony awards are reserved for long-term marriages of 25 years or more.

While Gnall reaffirms the principles that all statutory factors must be weighed and considered by the court in awarding alimony, its holding has limited applicability because it analyzes the issue under rubric of the former alimony statute. In a footnote, the Court acknowledges the passage of the new alimony statute on Sept. 10, 2014, and notes that the amendment is not applicable to the case.7

 

Mr. Vuotto is the managing partner of the Matawan based law firm of Tonneman, Vuotto, Enis & White, LLC. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the NJFL. Mr. Vuotto is certified by the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (“AAML”) and has been trained as an arbitrator of matrimonial issues by that national organization.

 

Endnotes

[1].         Gnall v. Gnall,432 N.J. Super. 129, 153 (App. Div. 2013) (emphasis added), reversed 2015 N.J. LEXIS 812 (July 29, 2015).

  1. 34 NJFL 3 (2013).
  2. Gnall v. Gnall, 2015 N.J. LEXIS 812 (July 29, 2015).
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id. at n.1.

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