Last month, the Appellate Division of New Jersey held in the case of Gnall v. Gnall that a 15-year marriage was not considered “short-term” and that it qualified for an award of permanent alimony. The courts have long shied away from setting bright line rules with regard to alimony. Instead, courts have always held that the length and amount of alimony is dependent on numerous factors, including but not limited to the length of the marriage, disparity in the parties’ incomes, the standard of living established during the marriage, and the earning capacities of the parties, and that there is no easy formula that may be used to determine one spouse’s obligation to the other. Even in this decision, the Court expressly held that it did not intend to draw bright line rules. And yet, the Appellate Division’s decision to definitively award permanent alimony in a 15-year marriage certainly seems like one.
In Gnall, the parties were both 42-years-old at the time of their divorce. The Appellate Division’s decision to award Mrs. Gnall permanent alimony effectively means that the obligor spouse, in this case Mr. Gnall, can be required to pay alimony to his former spouse for a period of time that would exceed the actual length of the marriage.
While the Appellate Division has made it clear that a 15-year marriage qualifies for permanent alimony, it remains unclear whether 15 years is the minimum length of time required for an award of permanent alimony, or whether a marriage close to 15 years would qualify as well. Would a dependent spouse married for only 13 years, for example, qualify for permanent alimony?
As the law has not yet been clearly defined, it is important that you seek legal counsel from an experienced attorney in order to understand all of your rights when going through a divorce. [Posted by Jenny Birz, Esq.]