Deutsche Bank CFO’s Alimony Parsed in NJ

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – The length of a marriage is only one part of the equation when determining the alimony due after a divorce, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
     In the case at hand, Deutsche Bank’s chief financial officer James Gnall had met his wife of 15 years, Elizabeth, when they were students at the State University of New York in Buffalo.
     After the couple married in 1993, Elizabeth put a master’s degree to work as a computer programmer for Goldman Sachs.
     After Elizabeth stopped working in 1999, to care for the couple’s growing family, Deutsche Bank hired James in 2003. He allegedly earns at least $1.5 million a year today as chief financial officer.
     The Gnalls’ marriage hit the rocks in 2007, about a year after Elizabeth underwent brain surgery that left her with minor facial paralysis. She sued for divorce in 2008, and the trial court awarded the mother of three $18,000 a month in alimony for a period of 11 years.
     Critical to the decision was the court’s finding that the Gnalls were not married long enough – say, 25 or 30 years – to warrant permanent alimony payments.
     The court had also considered the age of the children – then 8, 11 and 12 years old.
     An appellate panel reversed, saying a 15-year marriage could not be considered “short term,” but the state Supreme Court ordered the trial court Wednesday to make a new alimony determination.
     “The Appellate Division erroneously created a bright-line rule that a fifteen-year marriage requires an award of permanent alimony, contrary to the need to consider all of the statutory factors,” Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina wrote for the unanimous court.
     New Jersey recognizes four types of alimony: permanent, to allow a dependant spouse to live an accustomed-to lifestyle; limited duration, in which economic assistance is needed for a certain period following the divorce; reimbursement, wherein a spouse is paid back for financial sacrifices to allow the other spouse to gain a degree, for example; and rehabilitative, a shorter-term award to allow the spouse to train and re-enter the workforce.
     Fernandez-Vina said a court must first consider permanent alimony, and, if that is not warranted, explain why not before considering the other three.
     Because no two divorces are alike, courts have broad discretion in determining if permanent alimony is warranted, according to the ruling.
     Among the 12 other statutory factors that the court must consider besides the length of the marriage are the health of both spouses, their earning capacities, and the ability of the one spouse to pay the other alimony.
     “The trial court improperly weighed duration over the other statutorily defined factors,” Fernandez-Vina wrote. “[And] the Appellate Division inadvertently created a bright-line rule for distinguishing between a short-term and long-term marriage.”
     Finding that the Gnalls’ 15-year marriage was “not short-term,” Fernandez-Vina said it would therefore not be considered for limited duration alimony.
     With Elizabeth having taken a job as a math teacher since the divorce, her medical expert testified during the divorce proceedings that she would be able to make at least $50,000 a year as an entry-level computer programmer – and could possibly eventually earn $120,000 a year, based on the other programmers’ salaries – but that it would require a year or two of retraining.

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