While the divorce process is fraught with a myriad of sensitive subjects, few issues are as hotly debated as the concept of "permanent alimony". In New Jersey, permanent alimony is only awarded in cases of longterm marriages, but there are no actual laws that dictate just how long a marriage needs to be in order to be considered "long-term". As a general rule, family court judges consider marriages to be long-term if they lasted 25 or more years, which may seem incredibly long to some people based on the current divorce rates. You must, however, keep in mind that permanent alimony would require one spouse to financially support the other for the rest of his or her life. Considering that there are very few changes in circumstances that would allow for the termination of alimony, this is not a commitment that should be forced upon the paying spouse unless there are exceptionally compelling reasons to do so..
There are a total of 13 factors that judges must review when deciding on the duration of an alimony award. In addition to the length of the marriage, these factors include the financial capabilities of the paying spouse, the ages and health of both spouses, each spouse's earning capacities, and the standard of living that was established during the marriage. Judges must not rely too heavily on any one of these factors, which was emphasized in the July 2015 ruling of Gnall v. Gnall. This case involved a woman, Elizabeth Gnall, who was requesting permanent alimony from her husband of almost 15 years. Elizabeth left her job in 1999 in order to care for the couple's children, while her husband, James Gnall, continued his job as the chief financial officer of Deutsch Bank, where he earned in excess of $1 million per year. In addition to being in a long marriage, Elizabeth stated that having been unemployed for so long diminished her earning capacity to the point where she would need financial support for the rest of her life.
The family court denied her request for permanent alimony, but the Appellate Division reversed that decision, stating that the superior court "improperly relied upon the duration of the marriage over other statutory factors." One of these factors is that a spouse is entitled to a lifestyle that is comparable to the one that he or she had during the course of the marriage. Being that Elizabeth was an educated, middle-aged woman, she would certainly be able to find some form of employment. However, it's highly unlikely that Elizabeth could ever earn anything remotely close to James' salary, given her long period of unemployment.
The fundamental lesson of Gnall v. Gnall is that the concept of a long-term marriage as it relates to permanent alimony must be decided on a case-by-case basis. If you are filing for divorce after a long-term marriage, please find out about your rights and options from the experienced divorce attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.