By Sheryl J. Seiden
On November 12, 2014, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers ("AAML-NJ") had the privilege of appearing as amicus curiae before the Supreme Court of New Jersey in the case of Gnall v. Gnall, A 52-13. In Gnall v. Gnall, in September 2010, Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division,. Family Part, Bergen County, (the "Trial Court") awarded a wife in a nearly 15 years marriage with three children, ages 8, 11 and 12, limited duration alimony for eleven years. In August 2013, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (the "Appellate Division") reversed and remanded the alimony award with a directive that the trial court should consider whether permanent alimony was appropriate. In January 2014, the Supreme Court of New Jersey granted Certification to determine the following question: "Was it appropriate for the Appellate Division to reverse the Trial Court's award of limited duration alimony and to remand for consideration of permanent alimony under the circumstances of this case, which included a marriage of fifteen years.?"
In September 2014, New Jersey's alimony statute, NJSA 2A:34-23, was amended whereby, permanent alimony was eliminated and replaced with indefinite durational alimony, and a presumption was created that marriages of less than 20 years in duration would not be awarded a term of alimony longer than the length of the parties' marriage except in exceptional circumstances. As matrimonial practitioners, we were intrigued as to how the Supreme Court of New Jersey would address the issues in Gnall v. Gnall in light of the foregoing statutory amendments.
At oral argument, Sheryl Seiden, Esq. argued on behalf of AAML -NJ that there should be no bright line rule in determining the length of alimony and where permanent alimony may have been appropriate in one case of 15 years in duration, it may not be appropriate in other cases. We further argued that in determining alimony, the family courts should examine the 14 (previously 13) statutory factors detailed in NJSA 2A:34-23 to determine the economic dependence created during the marriage which results in the need for alimony. Just as no two marriages are alike, no two divorces are alike and this is why it is so important to examine each case on its particular facts.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey was particularly focused on whether the Trial Court appropriately examined the statutory factors to conclude that 11 years of alimony was warranted in this case. The Supreme Court of New Jersey seemed particularly sensitive to the discretion awarded to trial court judges in matrimonial matters and questioned whether the trial court abused his discretion in this case. The Court did not seem desirous to address the issue of whether the new statute or the prior statute would apply if the case is remanded on the issue of the duration of alimony. Thus, is Ms. Gnall even eligible for permanent alimony as New Jersey no longer provides for permanent alimony pursuant to NJSA 2A:34-23? The issue of applied law on remand may be left to another day or another opinion. The specific issue would be moot if the Supreme Court reverses the Appellate Division and reinstates the Trial Court's award of limited duration of alimony. Stay tuned for the decision. We are all very excited to see how the Supreme Court ultimately rules.
Sheryl J. Seiden, Esq. argued amicus curiae for AAML-NJ. (Bonnie Frost, Esq., Ronald Lieberman, Esq., Sheryl J. Seiden, Esq. and Eric Solotoff, Esq. were on the brief).