A review of alimony case Gnall v. Gnall that went through the appeal. Before Judges Messano, Lihotz, and Kennedy. Opinion by Judge Lihotz, J.A.D.
By David Wildstein, family lawyer
Issue 1: Did the trial court err in awarding limited duration alimony of 11 years under the circumstances where the parties had been married almost 15 years, had three children (ages 14, 13 and 11) and were 42 years old at the time of trial?
Holding 1: Yes. A 15-year marriage is not short-term, and thus, the trial court on remand must evaluate whether permanent alimony is appropriate taking into account the wife’s inability to achieve something close to the marital standard of $18,000 per month. The court declared that there are no specific lines delineating short-term marriages versus long-term marriages and that duration does not dictate the applicability or inapplicability of permanent alimony. A dependent spouse’s age alone cannot obviate permanent alimony as age is only one factor weighed in the determination of alimony. Only after the court determines that permanent alimony is unwarranted can the court consider limited duration alimony.
Issue 2: Did the trial court err in averaging the parties’ expenses over several years when computing the marital lifestyle and the wife’s needs?
Holding 2: Maybe. The Appellate Division remanded to the trial court for specific findings of fact and legal conclusions regarding the savings component of the wife’s budget.
Issue 3: Did the trial court err in imputing income to the wife of $65,000 per year?
Holding 3: No, but the Appellate Division remanded for the trial court to determine an appropriate effective date of imputation taking into consideration the time and cost necessary for plaintiff’s retraining. The trial court’s conclusion that the wife ignored her responsibility to obtain work pendente lite was not supported by the evidence. There is no court order or directive that the wife return to work.
Issue 4: Did the trial court award an appropriate amount of child support in this high income case?
Holding 4: Maybe. The Appellate Division remanded for the trial court to set forth its factual findings supporting a supplemental support award above the child support guidelines amount in light of the parties’ high income.
Issue 5: Did the trial court err in not addressing the division of bonus income and the wife’s use of that bonus to pay living expenses while the husband failed to support her from his income?
Holding 5: Yes. On remand, the Appellate Division directed the trial court to consider the treatment and allocation of the bonus income, which was used by the wife to pay her expenses pendente lite while the husband did not support her from his income.
Issue 6: Did the trial court correctly calculate the amount of life insurance to secure the husband’s alimony and child support obligation?
Holding 6: No. On remand, the Appellate Division directed the trial court to consider the husband’s request to reduce the life insurance annually and to allocate the total amount of life insurance between the wife and children.
David Wildstein practices family law with the New Jersey law firm of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer
Family lawyers should consider making spousal maintenance claims in a much wider range of situations under the new statutes.