The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ordered a trial court to rethink a case that limited support the ex-wife of a prominent Deutsche Bank executive received. Elizabeth and James Gnall, the bank’s chief financial officer, were married 15 years before a 2008 divorce. A trial court felt the length of marriage was too short to award permanent alimony.
The court ordered the former husband to make $18,000 per month payments to his former wife for 11 years. Elizabeth Gnall appealed. A panel reversed the ruling claiming the 15-year union was not a short-term marriage.
The state Supreme Court took up the case and criticized the appellate court for “creating a bright-line rule” defining what was and wasn’t a long-term marriage. The high court felt the true problem was the trial court’s failure to take other important factors into consideration when making the alimony determination.
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New Jersey spousal support guidelines help judges decide whether and how much alimony is necessary and how long an ex-spouse should receive it. Some awards reimburse a spouse for sacrifices made for a partner during marriage. Others provide limited support so a spouse can recover financially from divorce or gain skills to get a job.
The state Supreme Court ruled permanent alimony should be considered before limited support. Family courts were directed to find good reasons to make awards temporary and not make decisions without examining other statutory factors, like the parties’ health conditions or spousal earning capacities.
Elizabeth Gnall had brain surgery, which left her face partially paralyzed in the year before her marriage started to crumble. She suspended a computer programming career in 1999 to care for the couple’s three children. James Gnall has worked at Deutsche Bank since 2003, where he now earns an estimated $1.5 million annually.
Family law attorneys are aware alimony guidelines are interpreted differently by different judges and can advise clients how to pursue support claims.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Deutsche Bank CFO’s Alimony Parsed in NJ,” Nick Rummell, July 29, 2015