Elizabeth Gnall v. James Gnall ( 2013 )


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  •                   NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
                     APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
    
                                        SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                        APPELLATE DIVISION
                                        DOCKET NO. A-3582-10T1
    
    
    ELIZABETH GNALL,
                                           APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
         Plaintiff-Appellant/
         Cross-Respondent,                        August 8, 2013
    
    v.                                        APPELLATE DIVISION
    
    
    JAMES GNALL,
    
         Defendant-Respondent/
         Cross-Appellant.
    _______________________________
    
             Argued January 29, 2013 - Decided August 8, 2013
    
             Before Judges Messano, Lihotz and Kennedy.
    
             On appeal from the Superior Court of New
             Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part,
             Bergen County, Docket No. FM-02-2021-08.
    
             Dale E. Console argued         the     cause    for
             appellant/cross-respondent.
    
             Barry   L.  Baime   argued  the   cause  for
             respondent/cross-appellant (Budd Larner, PC,
             attorneys; Mr. Baime, of counsel; Donald P.
             Jacobs, on the briefs).
    
         The opinion of the court was delivered by
    
    LIHOTZ, J.A.D.
    
         These     matrimonial   cross-appeals       challenge     several
    
    provisions in a final judgment of divorce entered following a
    
    seventeen-day trial, including the propriety of awarding limited
    duration alimony following the parties' fifteen-year marriage.
    
    Plaintiff Elizabeth Gnall attacks the award of limited duration
    
    alimony,      suggesting          she       should      have      been     awarded       permanent
    
    alimony.          She also argues the judge abused his discretion in
    
    restricting her access to the awarded supplemental child support
    
    in    this   high        income       case,       and   in     allocating        her    equitable
    
    entitlement         to     defendant's             2007      and        2008    bonus      income.
    
    Defendant James Gnall has abandoned his cross-appeal challenging
    
    the   amount       of    alimony,       but       continues        to    maintain       the   child
    
    support calculations were erroneous.                         He also contends the judge
    
    abused    his      discretion          when       ordering        him    to    pay     plaintiff's
    
    attorney's fees, and mistakenly set the amount of life insurance
    
    he must obtain to guarantee the ordered support obligations.                                      We
    
    affirm in part and reverse in part.
    
                                                       I.
    
           The facts are taken from the trial record.                                    Our limited
    
    recital      is    tailored       to    address         only      those       issues    raised    on
    
    appeal, rather than all issues addressed at trial.
    
           The    parties         married        on    June      5,    1993,       and     have   three
    
    children, who are now ages fourteen, thirteen, and eleven.                                        In
    
    2008,     plaintiff           filed     a     complaint           and    defendant       filed     a
    
    counterclaim            for     divorce,            each       alleging          irreconcilable
    
    
    
    
                                                       2                                      A-3582-10T1
    differences.        At the time trial commenced on April 8, 2009, both
    
    parties were forty-two years old.
    
          The    trial     focused      on   factors    necessary    to    discern    the
    
    appropriate nature and amount of alimony.                The parties presented
    
    factual      and     expert      testimony     regarding       plaintiff's       past
    
    employment and future employability prospects once she returned
    
    to   the    workforce;      defendant's     current    and    anticipated    future
    
    earnings; and the needs of plaintiff and the children.                            The
    
    parties and their experts testified.
    
          Prior    to     the     parties'     marriage,    plaintiff      received      a
    
    bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and, while working
    
    full-time as an engineer for IBM, obtained a master's degree in
    
    computer science.           At the time of the marriage, she was employed
    
    as a software programmer and systems analyst for the foreign
    
    exchange     sales    group    of    Goldman   Sachs,    earning      approximately
    
    $62,000 per year.           She later worked as a senior programmer and
    
    analyst for the Government Securities Clearing Corporation, and
    
    then as Assistant Vice President at Bankers Trust Corporation,
    
    performing         computer    programing,         creating     web    sites,     and
    
    developing web interfaces.               In 1999, while pregnant with the
    
    parties' second child, she left her corporate position to join a
    
    friend's start-up company, known as "Visual Tonic."                     Her salary
    
    in 1997 was $115,048.            She earned $94,000 for part of 1998 and
    
    
    
    
                                               3                                A-3582-10T1
    $52,202 for part of 1999, the years the two older children were
    
    born.    Thereafter, with defendant's assent, she stopped working
    
    outside the home to principally care for the children.                                       The
    
    parties' third child was born in 2002.
    
        At trial, plaintiff explained she believed her programming
    
    skills   were    "obsolete"       and      needed       to    be    "totally       retrained"
    
    prior    to   reentry     into       the    rapidly         changing       computer       field.
    
    Moreover,     she     assumed     she      would       be    competing        with    younger
    
    candidates for available entry-level positions.                               Consequently,
    
    she was dissuaded from returning to computer programing and,
    
    instead, proposed to pursue a career as a math teacher.                                      She
    
    chose    teaching      based    on    a    perception         there    existed        a    "high
    
    demand" for such professionals and, more important, because her
    
    prospective      work    schedule         would   coincide          with    the    children's
    
    school    day,        thereby     minimizing            childcare          costs     and     any
    
    disruption       to     the     children's          routine.                Plaintiff        had
    
    investigated the requirements to obtain a teaching certification
    
    and believed she could acquire the necessary training through
    
    part-time     study      in    four    years      or    less,       depending        upon    the
    
    acceptance of previously earned college credits.                             She initially
    
    intended to obtain the necessary degree from William Paterson
    
    University,      which    was    proximate         to    her       home,    but    ultimately
    
    enrolled in a three-year online program sponsored by Western
    
    
    
    
                                                 4                                        A-3582-10T1
    Governors University in Utah.                Plaintiff estimated the cost to
    
    obtain her degree, excluding books, was approximately $18,610,
    
    representing tuition for six semesters at $2935 per block, plus
    
    a $1000 student teaching fee.
    
        Plaintiff          described    her     health   concerns.         She    underwent
    
    skull-based      neurosurgery       to     remove    a   mass    in   November     2006.
    
    Resultant nerve damage caused her to experience facial numbness,
    
    occasional eye pain, and intermittent noises in one ear.                             She
    
    returns    for        annual     medical     reviews     of     her    condition     and
    
    undergoes an MRI every year.               She attended counseling to address
    
    stress caused by the divorce and the accompanying litigation.
    
    Plaintiff did not believe her medical conditions impeded her
    
    ability to resume employment.
    
        Prior        to     trial,     plaintiff      participated         in    employment
    
    evaluations,      during       which       she   expressed      her     interest     was
    
    "raising    her       children."           Elaborating,       she     said   she   "had
    
    absolutely no interest . . . and ha[d]n't given much thought to
    
    her career[,]" although she had taken a community college course
    
    providing an overview of veterinary technician careers.                        She did
    
    not desire that job and suggested to defendant's expert she was
    
    interested in culinary arts.                She expressed a similar sentiment
    
    when evaluated by her own expert, stating she might like to work
    
    
    
    
                                                 5                                 A-3582-10T1
    "at some point in the future," but presently was concerned about
    
    the care of the children.
    
          Each      party      presented        expert         testimony         addressing
    
    plaintiff's employment prospects.             Defendant offered the opinion
    
    of David B. Stein, Ph.D., of Vocational Consulting Group, Inc.
    
    Plaintiff then offered the opinion of Charles Kincaid, Ph.D., of
    
    Kincaid Vocational & Rehabilitation Services.
    
          Dr.     Stein      obtained      plaintiff's           work      history        and
    
    educational background, and developed a "worker trade profile"
    
    to identify available jobs matching plaintiff's qualifications
    
    or positions she could reasonably become qualified to perform
    
    based on her past education and experience.                   Using United States
    
    Department of Labor categories of employment, Dr. Stein opined
    
    plaintiff was "very qualified" for and would be "best suited" to
    
    continue as a computer programmer or computer software engineer
    
    because she had a "very high level of training."                          He believed
    
    plaintiff     could     readily     "update    her         skills"     by    obtaining
    
    necessary retraining, either online or at universities in the
    
    geographic area, in approximately six to twelve weeks, at a cost
    
    of   $1,000    to     $4,000,   depending     on     the    type     of     skills    she
    
    developed.
    
          Dr.     Stein     observed    computer       programming         and    software
    
    engineering      positions      "exist[ed]         in      large     numbers"        and,
    
    
    
    
                                            6                                      A-3582-10T1
    according to recent projections from the Department of Labor,
    
    were among the occupations expected to grow the fastest over the
    
    upcoming decade.         He noted computer programmers earned less than
    
    software       engineers.         Nationally,       positions     in    these     fields
    
    carried an annual salary of between $80,000 and $93,740, with
    
    even higher wages, on average, in Bergen County.                          Because she
    
    possessed a "very strong academic, as well as job performance
    
    background," Dr. Stein did not view plaintiff's absence from the
    
    job market as having a "preclusive" effect on her ability to
    
    obtain employment.          Dr. Stein opined plaintiff could expect an
    
    initial    annual       salary    of    between     $58,000     and    $69,000,      but,
    
    judging by her past performance, she could anticipate rapid wage
    
    growth and, within two or three years, perhaps earn an annual
    
    salary in excess of $115,000.
    
        Plaintiff's          expert,       Dr.   Kincaid,      similarly      focused      on
    
    plaintiff's return to employment in the computer field, even
    
    though    he    noted    she     expressed       disinterest    in     such   work    and
    
    "wanted a change[.]"             He disagreed with Dr. Stein's conclusions
    
    regarding      plaintiff's       employability,       as   well   as    the   probable
    
    length and cost of retraining, noting hiring trends for computer
    
    programmers did not show anticipated growth over the ensuing
    
    decade.        He agreed, however, "faster than average growth" and
    
    "very good prospects" of employment were predicted for computer
    
    
    
    
                                                 7                                  A-3582-10T1
    systems     analysts,         a   position       similar        to    plaintiff's           IBM
    
    position, and also for computer software engineers, a field in
    
    which      plaintiff's        skills    and      educational          background           were
    
    compatible, despite her lack of direct experience.
    
          Using the reported requirements and salaries found in local
    
    job advertisements, Dr. Kincaid concluded plaintiff needed to
    
    engage     in   approximately        one    to    two    years       of     retraining       to
    
    upgrade her skills, at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000.                                  He too
    
    discussed       plaintiff's         possible      employment           as     a     software
    
    engineer, for which entry level positions included an estimated
    
    annual salary of $56,764, and a mean salary of $67,763.
    
          Next, defendant testified as to his employment and income.
    
    A certified public accountant, he was working as Chief Financial
    
    Officer     for    the   America       Financial        Group    of        Deutsche    Bank.
    
    Defendant's annual compensation included his fixed annual salary
    
    and a discretionary bonus paid in February following the close
    
    of   the   calendar      year.       His    bonus    payment         included      cash     and
    
    deferred equity units, or stock options, restricted by a three-
    
    to five-year period of vesting.                  The following chart sets forth
    
    defendant's       remuneration       from   employment      as       paid     in    calendar
    
    years 2005 through 2010, understanding cash bonuses and equity
    
    units    were     paid   in   the    February       following        the    close     of    the
    
    actual compensation year on which they were based.
    
    
    
    
                                                8                                       A-3582-10T1
          YEAR             SALARY        CASH BONUS          EQUITY         TOTAL
                                                              UNITS      COMPENSATION
          2005            $185,000       $ 325,000                       $ 510,000
          2006            $185,000       $ 481,100          $ 84,900     $ 751,000
          2007            $200,000       $ 718,702          $ 97,298     $1,016,000
          2008            $200,000       $ 766,507          $108,493     $1,075,000
          2009            $200,000       $1,296,806         $303,194     $1,800,000
          2010            $400,000       $ 788,899          $683,326 &   $2,100,000
                                                            $227,7751
    
           Defendant specifically addressed his 2008 bonus.                 He stated
    
    the terms of the bonus were negotiated in July 2008, as part of
    
    his    promotion,       which     post-dated      plaintiff's     complaint     for
    
    divorce.      The 2008 bonus check (received in February 2009) was
    
    not directly deposited into the parties' joint checking account,
    
    as    was    the    custom    with    prior    bonuses.       Rather,   defendant
    
    deposited the check into an account titled solely in his name.
    
    Although a portion of the cash bonus may have been used for
    
    pendente      lite     support,      defendant    argued    plaintiff    was    not
    
    entitled to an equitable share of the funds because he received
    
    the money as part of his promotion, not as a result of his past
    
    performance.
    
           Evidence of the parties' expenses and the marital lifestyle
    
    was also presented.              Both parties marked into evidence their
    
    respective         original   and    revised     Case    Information    Statements
    
    
    
    
    1
         In 2010, defendant was awarded an annual incentive award,
    which vests over three years.
    
    
    
                                              9                               A-3582-10T1
    (CIS),    and    plaintiff       presented          expert     testimony      from        Rufino
    
    Fernandez, Jr., CPA, a forensic accountant.
    
         At the time of trial, the parties' Ridgewood marital home
    
    had been sold, plaintiff and the children were renting a smaller
    
    residence in Ridgewood, and defendant had moved to an apartment
    
    in Manhattan's upper west side.                       Plaintiff's initial CIS was
    
    based    on    the    costs    of   the       marital       home     and   listed     monthly
    
    expenses totaling approximately $35,000.                       Her budget was revised
    
    to $21,041 per month to reflect her change in residence.2                                On the
    
    other    hand,       defendant      reported         the     family's       joint     marital
    
    lifestyle while living in Ridgewood was $23,664 per month, of
    
    which he allocated $10,906 for his needs.                           He too modified his
    
    budget    after       moving      to     New        York     City,     claiming       monthly
    
    expenditures of $19,803.
    
         During       the     marriage,           plaintiff       handled        the    family's
    
    finances.       Defendant's paycheck was directly deposited into the
    
    joint    checking      account,        from    which       plaintiff       paid    utilities,
    
    food,    and    smaller       landscaping           bills.         Similarly,       the    cash
    
    portion of defendant's bonus was directly deposited into the
    
    joint    checking       account     and       disbursed       by    plaintiff       to    cover
    
    current and future anticipated expenses.                        For example, in 2007,
    
    
    2
         In the course of the trial, the marital home was sold,
    netting $797,411.
    
    
    
                                                   10                                    A-3582-10T1
    a   portion    of    the    bonus      remuneration         was    placed    in    savings;
    
    $10,000 was placed in each of the children's uniform gift to
    
    minor's      accounts       (UGMA);      $10,000       was    used     to     reduce       the
    
    principal     balance       of   the    mortgages;      a    sum    was     set    aside   to
    
    satisfy the resultant tax obligations; and the remainder was
    
    used    to    pay    credit      card    bills,      car     expenses,       the    monthly
    
    mortgages, real estate taxes and insurances, large landscaping
    
    bills, and the like.
    
           Defendant drove a 2008 Infiniti M45 after trading in a 1998
    
    Nissan Maxima.         His monthly car payment was $1,039.                        Plaintiff
    
    drove a 2007 Cadillac Escalade, which was encumbered by a loan
    
    requiring     a     monthly      payment   of    $1,583.           Plaintiff      explained
    
    groceries were purchased from Whole Foods or Kings, clothing was
    
    bought from Talbots, Nordstrom, Macy's, Ann Taylor, Victoria's
    
    Secret, Lilly Pulitzer, and the Gap, and defendant's suits were
    
    purchased from Barney's in New York City.                          The family enjoyed
    
    multiple vacations each year, which had included ski trips to
    
    Aspen   and       Switzerland,      stays       at   Disney       World,     ocean     front
    
    rentals in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and shorter trips to
    
    Rhode Island and Boston.                Plaintiff insisted the parties always
    
    had money to buy whatever they wanted and never worried; they
    
    always paid their expenses when incurred; and other than the
    
    mortgages     and     car   loans,       they    had   no    debts.         The    children
    
    
    
    
                                                11                                      A-3582-10T1
    attended     public     school    and     were    involved       in    several     other
    
    extracurricular activities, such as sports and music lessons.
    
    Each child was engaged in counseling to address issues arising
    
    from their parents' divorce.
    
          Plaintiff's       expert,      Fernandez,          prepared       a    lifestyle
    
    analysis after interviewing plaintiff and reviewing the historic
    
    Quicken    checking      expenses,        other   bank     account      records,     and
    
    investment        documentation     for    the    period    from      2004   to    2007.
    
    Fernandez admitted plaintiff reviewed his preliminary drafts to
    
    verify the accuracy of his proposed expense allocations, he did
    
    not consult with defendant.                In order for plaintiff and the
    
    children     to    maintain   the    marital      lifestyle,      Fernandez       opined
    
    she would need $24,252 per month, plus additional monies for
    
    savings and income tax obligations resulting from the alimony
    
    receipts.3
    
          On cross-examination, the accuracy of Fernandez's report
    
    was   attacked.         Defendant     showed      Fernandez      had    artificially
    
    inflated     the    total   needs    of    plaintiff       and   the    children     by:
    
    including miscellaneous expenses that were actually transfers
    
    between accounts, not expenses; including costs expended for the
    
    
    3
         Fernandez determined the amount of the parties' savings
    over the years was: $58,692 in 2004; $148,184 in 2005; $239,078
    in 2006; and $334,651 in 2007.
    
    
    
    
                                               12                                 A-3582-10T1
    benefit of defendant; and doubling actual vacation costs and a
    
    portion of the cash expenditures.
    
          Defendant's testimony emphasized his financial success was
    
    recent and not representative of the marital lifestyle.                He also
    
    argued   the    parties     had   recently   increased       their   household
    
    expenditures by using a home equity loan to build an addition to
    
    the home, and by buying newer cars.           He asserted these expenses
    
    should not be considered when calculating the standard of living
    
    enjoyed during the marriage.
    
          Reviewing the evidence submitted, the trial judge concluded
    
    the parties enjoyed "an upper middle class" lifestyle that was
    
    more modest than what could be afforded on defendant's more
    
    recent remuneration.        He fixed the monthly needs of plaintiff
    
    and the three children at $18,000.            After concluding plaintiff
    
    could return to the computer field and earn "between $61,200 and
    
    $94,000," he considered the alimony factors, understanding his
    
    obligation to make statutory findings.              He found the parties'
    
    fifteen-year     marital     relationship     was     "not   short     term[.]"
    
    Nevertheless, when he weighed the "relatively young" age of the
    
    parties, and their good health and education, which allowed them
    
    to   obtain    employment   "at   good    salaries"    and   thereby    support
    
    "excellent lifestyles for themselves and their children[,]" the
    
    judge concluded "the parties were not married long enough and
    
    
    
    
                                         13                                A-3582-10T1
    are not old enough for [defendant] to be responsible to maintain
    
    that    lifestyle      permanently        for      [plaintiff]."             He   therefore
    
    concluded, "this is not a permanent alimony case."
    
           The    judge     also   rejected           an   award       for   rehabilitative
    
    alimony.         Even      though       he    acknowledged          plaintiff          needed
    
    retraining, he found plaintiff could take classes online at her
    
    own pace.       The judge also noted plaintiff had failed to work
    
    toward obtaining employment during the two years the case was
    
    pending.      Consequently, he imputed $65,000 annual income to her,
    
    effective     immediately,        and   awarded        $18,000     per       month   limited
    
    duration alimony for eleven years.                        The alimony award was to
    
    terminate on September 1, 2021, coincident with the youngest
    
    child's anticipated departure for college.                         Further, the award
    
    would not be subject to modification based on plaintiff's future
    
    earnings;     rather,      modification           would    be    permitted        only    upon
    
    either party's death or plaintiff's remarriage.
    
           The initial child support calculations made following trial
    
    were challenged in post-judgment motions.                          At that time, the
    
    judge corrected an error and re-calculated child support under
    
    the    guidelines     as   $997     per      week.        He    added    a    supplemental
    
    support      award    of   $1600    per      month     per      child,   requiring         the
    
    maximum      gift    tax   amount       (currently,            $13,000   per      year)     be
    
    deposited into the children's UGMA accounts, unless the parties
    
    
    
    
                                                 14                                      A-3582-10T1
    agreed otherwise.        Any remaining sums would be paid monthly to
    
    plaintiff to use as she saw fit.
    
        The judge concluded the marital portion of defendant's 2008
    
    bonus (paid in February 2009) was limited to the proportionate
    
    amount represented by the period prior to the filing date of the
    
    complaint, that is January 1, to March 10, 2009.                         The judge
    
    calculated the total marital portion as $216,700 and concluded,
    
    "at best plaintiff's share would be fifty percent, or $108,300."
    
    However, the judge determined plaintiff's interest was offset by
    
    her past receipt of tax-free pendente lite support and other
    
    lump sum payments made during the two-year litigation.
    
        Defendant     was     ordered       to    maintain    $3   million    in   life
    
    insurance   during      the    limited       duration    alimony   term.        When
    
    alimony ended, he was permitted to reduce the life insurance to
    
    $1 million until the emancipation of the children.                        Finally,
    
    defendant   was   ordered      to     satisfy   the     outstanding   $105,423.86
    
    balance plaintiff owed to her attorney.
    
        Motions       were        filed      for     reconsideration         of    some
    
    determinations and for clarification of others.                    As noted, the
    
    amount of child support was adjusted.                   Also, the judge denied
    
    defendant's cross-motion to reduce the life insurance obligation
    
    to the actual amount of alimony due.                      Thereafter, plaintiff
    
    
    
    
                                             15                                A-3582-10T1
    appealed and defendant cross-appealed from designated provisions
    
    of the judgment.
    
                                                 II.
    
          Our review of a trial court's factual findings is limited.
    
    N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 
    189 N.J. 261
    , 278-79
    
    (2007) (citation omitted).                 "The general rule is that findings
    
    by   the    trial    court         are   binding   on     appeal   when    supported     by
    
    adequate, substantial, credible evidence."                         Cesare v. Cesare,
    
    
    154 N.J. 394
    , 411-12 (1998) (citing Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v.
    
    Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 
    65 N.J. 474
    , 484 (1974)).                              We defer
    
    to credibility determinations because a trial court "'hears the
    
    case,      sees     and       observes     the     witnesses,      [and]       hears   them
    
    testify,'" affording it "'a better perspective than a reviewing
    
    court in evaluating the veracity of witnesses.'"                               Id. at 412
    
    (quoting Pascale v. Pascale, 
    113 N.J. 20
    , 33 (1988) (internal
    
    quotation marks and citations omitted)).
    
          Further, we recognize the "special expertise" of judges in
    
    addressing discretionary matters in the Family Part.                            Therefore,
    
    if the trial judge's conclusions are evidentially supported, we
    
    are inclined to accept them.                     Ibid.     Consequently, we do "not
    
    disturb the 'factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial
    
    judge      unless    .    .    .    convinced      that    they    are    so    manifestly
    
    unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and
    
    
    
    
                                                  16                                  A-3582-10T1
    reasonably   credible       evidence      as    to   offend     the    interests      of
    
    justice.'"         Ibid.    (internal       quotation       marks     and     citations
    
    omitted).        "Only when the [trial] court's conclusions are so
    
    'clearly mistaken' or 'wide of the mark'" that the judge was
    
    obviously    mistaken,       should    we       interfere     and     make    our    own
    
    findings to "ensure that there is not a denial of justice."
    
    N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 
    196 N.J. 88
    , 104
    
    (2008) (quoting N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. G.L., 
    191 N.J. 596
    , 605 (2007)).
    
           On the other hand, our review of a trial court's legal
    
    conclusions is always plenary.              D.W. v. R.W., 
    212 N.J. 232
    , 245-
    
    46 (2012) (citing Balsamides v. Protameen Chems., 
    160 N.J. 352
    ,
    
    372    (1999)).       We     are   not      bound    by     "[a]      trial     court's
    
    interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow
    
    from   established        facts[,]"    which      "are    not   entitled        to   any
    
    special deference."          Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of
    
    Manalapan, 
    140 N.J. 366
    , 378 (1995).
    
                                             III.
    
                                              A.
    
           Plaintiff's principal challenge on appeal attacks as error
    
    the    judge's    award    of   limited        duration     alimony.          Plaintiff
    
    succinctly asserts: "This is a permanent alimony case."
    
    
    
    
                                              17                                   A-3582-10T1
          "Alimony is a claim arising upon divorce, which is rooted
    
    in    the   parties'   prior   [financial]         interdependence"        created
    
    during their marital relationship.                Reese v. Weis, 430 N.J.
    
    Super. 552, 569 (App. Div. 2013).                 Whether alimony should be
    
    awarded is governed by distinct, objective standards defined by
    
    the    Legislature     in   N.J.S.A.     2A:34-23b.          When    alimony       is
    
    requested,    the    statute   demands      the   court     consider      and   make
    
    specific findings regarding:
    
                (1) The actual       need       and   ability    of     the
                parties to pay;
    
                (2) The duration of the marriage or civil
                union;
    
                (3) The age, physical and emotional health
                of the parties;
    
                (4) The standard of living established in
                the   marriage  or   civil   union  and   the
                likelihood that each party can maintain a
                reasonably comparable standard of living;
    
                (5) The earning capacities, educational
                levels, vocational skills, and employability
                of the parties;
    
                (6) The length of absence from the                      job
                market of the party seeking maintenance;
    
                (7) The parental      responsibilities          for     the
                children;
    
                (8) The time and expense necessary to
                acquire sufficient education or training to
                enable the party seeking maintenance to find
                appropriate employment . . . ;
    
    
    
    
                                           18                                  A-3582-10T1
                 (9) The history of the financial or non-
                 financial contributions to the marriage or
                 civil   union   by   each   party   including
                 contributions to the care and education of
                 the children and interruption of personal
                 careers or educational opportunities;
    
                 (10) The equitable distribution of property
                 ordered . . . ;
    
                 (11) The income available to either party
                 through investment of any assets held by
                 that party;
    
                 (12) The tax treatment and consequences to
                 both parties of any alimony award . . . ;
    
                 (13) Any other factors which the court may
                 deem relevant.
    
                 [N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b.]
    
          The law compels judges to weigh all of these statutory
    
    factors to determine whether alimony is appropriate and, if so,
    
    ascertain the nature and calculate the amount of alimony needed
    
    by the dependent spouse.        See N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23c (requiring the
    
    court   to   "make   specific   findings    on   the   evidence"     regarding
    
    statutory factors relevant to an alimony award).                This process
    
    is   designed   to   account    for   the   unique     needs   and   abilities
    
    affecting each dependent spouse,4 as well as the financially
    
    
    
    
    4
         Although we limit the context of our discussion based on
    the facts of this case to spouses, we note the statute equally
    applies to partners dissolving their civil unions pursuant to
    N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2.1.
    
    
    
    
                                          19                              A-3582-10T1
    secure spouse called on to continue support after the marriage
    
    ends in divorce.        Certainly,
    
               [a] trial court's findings regarding alimony
               should not be vacated unless the court
               clearly abused its discretion, failed to
               consider   all   of   the  controlling    legal
               principles,    made  mistaken    findings,   or
               reached   a    conclusion   that    could   not
               reasonably have been reached on sufficient
               credible evidence present in the record
               after considering the proofs as a whole.
               Heinl v. Heinl, 
    287 N.J. Super. 337
    , 345
               (App. Div. 1996). Substantial weight should
               be given to the judge's observations of the
               parties' demeanor and credibility. Ibid.
    
               [J.E.V. v. K.V., 
    426 N.J. Super. 475
    , 485
               (App. Div. 2012).]
    
        We need not detail the four types of statutorily authorized
    
    alimony    and         the    policy           considerations        underlying         the
    
    Legislature's      creation        of    each       distinct   category      of   alimony
    
    awards.         Instead,      we     rely      on     the   comprehensive         analyses
    
    contained in two opinions of this court, which have scrupulously
    
    reviewed these topics.             See J.E.V., supra, 426 N.J. Super. at
    
    484-89;   Cox    v.    Cox,    335      N.J.    Super.      465,   473-76    (App.     Div.
    
    2000).
    
        We     nevertheless        emphasize            that    judges       considering     an
    
    alimony request must always keep in mind the primary "purpose of
    
    awarding alimony to a spouse is based on 'an economic right that
    
    arises    out     of    the    marital         relationship        and     provides     the
    
    dependent spouse with a level of support and standard of living
    
    
    
                                                   20                                 A-3582-10T1
    generally commensurate with the quality of economic life that
    
    existed during the marriage.'"                    Clark v. Clark, 
    429 N.J. Super. 61
    , 72-73 (App. Div. 2012) (quoting Mani v. Mani, 
    183 N.J. 70
    ,
    
    80    (2005)    (internal         quotation       marks     and   citations     omitted)).
    
    The    economic      dependence       created          as   a   result   of    the    marital
    
    relationship         is    a   crucial       finding        necessary    to    impose      the
    
    ongoing financial entanglement of an alimony award.                                  The law
    
    attributes a party's individual success to have been achieved by
    
    virtue    of    the       joint    union     —    "a    shared     enterprise,       a   joint
    
    undertaking, that in many ways . . . is akin to a partnership."
    
    Rothman v. Rothman, 
    65 N.J. 219
    , 229 (1974).                         See also Guglielmo
    
    v. Guglielmo, 
    253 N.J. Super. 531
    , 543 (App. Div. 1992) ("We are
    
    entirely satisfied that a spouse who maintains the home while
    
    her husband's career advances should share in the rewards of
    
    their combined efforts." (citations omitted)).
    
           Finally,       a     judge     awarding          alimony      must     methodically
    
    consider all evidence to assure the award is "fit, reasonable
    
    and    just"    to    both        parties,       N.J.S.A.       2A:34-23,     and    properly
    
    balances each party's needs, the finite marital resources, and
    
    the    parties'       desires        to    commence         their    separate        futures,
    
    N.J.S.A.       2A:34-23c.           Parties       must      not   forget,     "alimony      is
    
    neither a punishment for the payor nor a reward for the payee."
    
    Mani, supra, 183 N.J. at 80 (citations omitted).
    
    
    
    
                                                     21                                  A-3582-10T1
         Here, our focus is not whether alimony should be awarded;
    
    the parties agree alimony is warranted.                     Instead we are asked
    
    what type of alimony suits the facts presented, and whether a
    
    limited duration award was appropriate.
    
         In     examining    any    alimony    request,     the    court    begins   its
    
    analysis     by   considering     whether      permanent      alimony   should    be
    
    awarded.5    N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23c.          Not every dependent spouse should
    
    receive a permanent alimony award.                   "If the court determines
    
    that an award of permanent alimony is not warranted, the court
    
    shall make specific findings on the evidence setting out the
    
    reasons     therefor."      Ibid.     Only      then    must    the    court   "make
    
    specific findings" on the applicability of the three remaining
    
    authorized alimony awards — limited duration, rehabilitative,
    
    and reimbursement — to discern which one or any combination of
    
    the three is "warranted by the circumstances of the parties and
    
    the nature of the case."         N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23f.
    
         J.E.V. and Cox have painstakingly compared and contrasted
    
    awards of permanent alimony and limited duration alimony, and
    
    these   cases     include   a   recitation      of    the    legislative   history
    
    underpinning the purpose in adopting limited duration alimony.
    
    
    5
         "The Legislature's use of the term permanent alimony is a
    misnomer in the sense that the award is not everlasting[;]" it
    is subject to modification based on statutory events and other
    changed circumstances. Reese, supra, 430 N.J. Super. at 575.
    
    
    
                                              22                               A-3582-10T1
    Briefly, limited duration alimony was designed "to fill a 'void'
    
    identified    by   the    Commission      to     Study   the    Law   of   Divorce."
    
    Gordon v. Rozenwald, 
    380 N.J. Super. 55
    , 65 (App. Div. 2005)
    
    (citing Sponsor's Statement to Senate Bill No. 54 (1998); Report
    
    of the Commission to Study the Law of Divorce 35 (Apr. 18,
    
    1995)).      The undeniable rationale in adding limited duration
    
    alimony as a remedy was to address a dependent spouse's post-
    
    divorce   needs         following    "'"shorter-term            marriages      where
    
    permanent or rehabilitative alimony would be inappropriate or
    
    inapplicable but where, nonetheless, economic assistance for a
    
    limited period of time would be just."'"                       J.E.V., supra, 426
    
    N.J. Super. at 485-86 (quoting Cox, supra, 335 N.J. Super. at
    
    477   (quoting     S.    No.   54,   at        6-7,   208th    Leg.   (N.J.    1998)
    
    (statement of Sens. Kavanaugh & Martin))).6
    
              Limited duration alimony, like permanent
              alimony, is based primarily on the marital
              enterprise.    It is distinguishable from
              permanent alimony because the length of the
              marriage does not warrant permanent support
              . . . . In order to avoid misuse of limited
              duration alimony to the disadvantage of
              supported spouses divorcing after a long-
              term marriage, the law prohibits award of
    
    6
         In May 2011, the United States Census Bureau reported the
    results of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
    by the American Community Survey, showing the current average
    length of marriage is eight years. See Rose M. Kreider & Renee
    Ellis, Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces, at
    15 (2011), available at http://www.census.gov.prot/2011pubs/p70-
    125.pdf.
    
    
    
                                              23                                A-3582-10T1
               limited duration alimony "as a substitute
               for permanent alimony in those cases where
               permanent   alimony  would    otherwise be
               awarded." N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23c[.]
    
               [Gordon, supra, 380 N.J. Super. at 66.]
    
    Thus, "limited duration alimony represents a form of limited
    
    spousal   support   for   a   specified    purpose,   namely   to   provide
    
    economic assistance for a restricted period of time," Gonzalez-
    
    Posse v. Ricciardulli, 
    410 N.J. Super. 340
    , 354 (App. Div. 2009)
    
    (citing Gordon, supra, 380 N.J. Super. at 65), by "offer[ing] a
    
    benefit to spouses deserving of alimony for a limited time . . .
    
    [,] who would be unlikely to receive any alimony under [the
    
    prior] statutory scheme," Gordon, supra, 380 N.J. Super. at 65
    
    (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).           As such,
    
               [l]imited duration alimony is not intended
               to facilitate the earning capacity of a
               dependent spouse or to make a sacrificing
               spouse whole, but rather to address those
               circumstances where an economic need for
               alimony is established, but the marriage was
               of short-term duration such that permanent
               alimony    is    not    appropriate.    Those
               circumstances stand in sharp contrast to
               marriages of long duration where economic
               need is also demonstrated.     In the former
               instance, limited duration alimony provides
               an equitable and proper remedy.       In the
               latter circumstances, permanent alimony is
               appropriate and an award of limited duration
               alimony is clearly circumscribed, both by
               equitable considerations and by statute.
    
               [Cox,   supra,  335      N.J.     Super.    at   476
               (emphasis added).]
    
    
    
    
                                        24                              A-3582-10T1
           Implicated by plaintiff's argument on appeal in this matter
    
    is whether a marriage lasting three months shy of fifteen years
    
    is   the   type     of    "shorter-term      marriage[]"        for    which    limited
    
    duration alimony was adopted by the Legislature.                            In both Cox
    
    and J.E.V., the propriety of the trial judge's award of limited
    
    duration alimony was challenged.                   In each case, a significant
    
    determining factor was the length of the respective marriage.
    
    Certainly, "[t]he 'defining distinction' between permanent and
    
    limited        duration    alimony     is   the     length      of    the    marriage."
    
    J.E.V., supra, 426 N.J. Super. at 488 (quoting Cox, supra, 335
    
    N.J. Super. at 483).           The Coxes had been married for twenty-two
    
    years,     a    circumstance    clearly      removing     any    possibility       of    a
    
    limited duration alimony award.                  Cox, supra, 335 N.J. Super. at
    
    483.     In J.E.V., supra, we reviewed the trial judge's rejection
    
    of the plaintiff's request for permanent alimony in favor of an
    
    award of limited duration alimony following an almost ten-year
    
    marriage.       426 N.J. Super. at 480-81.
    
           Assessing        the   facts    here,       the   trial       judge    correctly
    
    identified       this     marriage's    length      as   "not    short-term."           He
    
    further acknowledged plaintiff would be unable "to maintain the
    
    marital lifestyle without alimony now and probably not for some
    
    time[.]"        Nevertheless, he concluded, consideration of an award
    
    of permanent alimony was obviated by the parties' relatively
    
    
    
    
                                                25                                  A-3582-10T1
    young ages and the fact that they were not married long enough —
    
    commenting     theirs     was     not    a     twenty-five        to    thirty-year
    
    relationship.    This conclusion was error and must be reversed.
    
        Contrary to the judge's belief, permanent alimony awards
    
    are not reserved solely for long-term marriages of twenty-five
    
    to thirty years.        While marital relationships of such duration,
    
    when coupled with a created economic dependence by one party,
    
    typically result in permanent alimony awards, there is no per se
    
    rule that permanent alimony is unwarranted unless the twentieth
    
    anniversary    milestone     is   reached.         Moreover,      any    attempt      to
    
    reduce the shared marital experience to a formulaic calculation
    
    of compensation based on the number of years "in the marriage,"
    
    completely      disregards        the     public       policy      considerations
    
    supporting continuation of economic support beyond the spouses'
    
    joined personal lives.
    
        Although     "[c]ourts        must   consider      the    duration         of    the
    
    marriage" when fixing alimony, "the length of the marriage and
    
    the proper amount or duration of alimony do not correlate in any
    
    mathematical    formula."         Lynn    v.   Lynn,    
    91 N.J. 510
    ,    517-18
    
    (1982).      The Legislature's confining limited duration alimony
    
    awards to those "shorter-term marriages," where the facts make a
    
    permanent     alimony     award      "inappropriate          or    inapplicable,"
    
    reinforces this concept.          J.E.V., supra, 426 N.J. Super. at 485-
    
    
    
    
                                             26                                    A-3582-10T1
    86 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis
    
    added).
    
          We do not intend to draw specific lines delineating "short-
    
    term" and "long-term" marriages in an effort to define those
    
    cases     warranting    only    limited    duration     rather     than    permanent
    
    alimony.      We also underscore it is not merely the years from the
    
    wedding to the parties' separation or commencement of divorce
    
    that dictates the applicability or inapplicability of permanent
    
    alimony.      Nevertheless, we do not hesitate to declare a fifteen-
    
    year marriage is not short-term, a conclusion which precludes
    
    consideration of an award of limited duration alimony.
    
          A    dependent     spouse's       age    alone    also      cannot     obviate
    
    permanent alimony.        See Robertson v. Robertson, 
    381 N.J. Super. 199
    , 207-08 (App. Div. 2005) (finding thirty-nine-year-old woman
    
    who     surrendered     employment        opportunities     was      entitled      to
    
    permanent alimony after a twelve-year marriage).                    Admittedly, a
    
    spouse's youth, along with prior education and skills, may tip
    
    the   scale    toward    a     lesser   amount   of     alimony    based     on    the
    
    prospects of viable future employment.                 But youth is merely one
    
    factor weighed in the alimony calculus.
    
          All facts regarding each unique marital partnership must be
    
    evaluated      when    considering      evidence       regarding     a     claim    of
    
    economic dependence warranting long-lasting support.                      Compliance
    
    
    
    
                                              27                                A-3582-10T1
    with the statute is not accomplished by a listing of facts.
    
    Rather, the statute mandates an analysis of the relationship of
    
    these facts, culminating in an assessment of their respective
    
    importance.        For example, when considering the applicability of
    
    a permanent alimony award, the length of the marriage and the
    
    parties'     ages    are    finite    facts     that      must      be     considered.
    
    N.J.S.A.     2A:34-23b(2)(3).         However,    the     statute's        enumerated
    
    considerations        implicate       other     aspects       of         the     marital
    
    relationship that also must be weighed.                 These include factors
    
    such    as   the     duration   and     cause    of     the      claimed        economic
    
    dependence; sacrifices made to assure the non-dependent spouse's
    
    financial     success;     whether    the     dependent      spouse's          return   to
    
    full-time     employment     causes    disruption       to    the    needs       of     the
    
    children; and the nature and extent of the dependent spouse's
    
    predicted     financial     independence,       measured      against          the    non-
    
    dependent     spouse's     continued        ability     to    provide          financial
    
    assistance.
    
           In this matter, facts relevant to plaintiff's request for
    
    permanent alimony are many.           A significant relevant fact is her
    
    monthly budget, representing the marital standard of living of
    
    $18,000 per month, or $216,000 per year.                  This amount was found
    
    to represent an "upper-middle-class" marital standard of living,
    
    which was more modest than current earnings would be able to
    
    
    
    
                                            28                                       A-3582-10T1
    maintain.     Nevertheless it is an amount plaintiff cannot achieve
    
    independent of defendant's support.
    
        Also, for more than two-thirds of the marriage, plaintiff
    
    functioned    as     the    primary    caretaker        for   the    children    and
    
    homemaker for the family, foregoing any earning capacity and
    
    professional success she may have achieved during this period.
    
    She had not worked since 1999.                 She initially left employment
    
    largely     because     the    parties        decided    their      two   children,
    
    separated in age by only a year, needed her care and attention.
    
    Thereafter, plaintiff was the homemaker and primary caretaker
    
    for the parties' three children.
    
        Under the divorce judgment, defendant's parenting time was
    
    set as every other weekend and, when he was able, dinner on
    
    Wednesdays.    Plaintiff, on the other hand, continued to bear the
    
    lion's share of parenting responsibilities for their three minor
    
    children.      The    parenting    time       schedule   permits     defendant     to
    
    continue his professional endeavors, substantially free of daily
    
    child     rearing     concerns,    such       as   assisting     with     homework,
    
    planning and preparing meals, scheduling activity, and shopping
    
    for the children's needs.
    
        Undoubtedly,           plaintiff   is       intelligent,        educated,    and
    
    capable of professional employment, but under any conceivable
    
    scenario, her re-employment requires retooling before reentry
    
    
    
    
                                             29                                A-3582-10T1
    into   the   job       market.      Further,        it       is    unrealistic      to    assume
    
    plaintiff    could       generate        earnings       sufficient         to    maintain      the
    
    determined        marital       standard     of     living.              Expert    testimony,
    
    credited     by    the    judge,     estimated           plaintiff's           return    to    the
    
    computer field could, after a few years, eventually result in
    
    earnings     of    $115,000.        This     is     a    far       cry    from    the    marital
    
    standard     of     living       calculated       by         the    court,       necessitating
    
    $216,000 net per year.              Thus, the record does not support that
    
    plaintiff would be able to resume working and earn an amount to
    
    sustain herself in a manner approaching that which the parties
    
    created and enjoyed during the marriage.
    
           Throughout        the    marriage,     defendant             pursued       his    career,
    
    uninterrupted       by    responsibilities              of    bearing      and     caring      for
    
    children.     His intelligence, drive, and abilities have allowed
    
    him    to    achieve           notable     professional             success,        which       is
    
    accompanied       by     significant       remuneration.                 The    surge    in    his
    
    earnings and the accompanying increase in the marital standard
    
    of living began in the latter third of the marriage, with his
    
    employment at Deutsche Bank in 2003.                         He is fortunate, as there
    
    is no contesting the fact he can, without sacrifice, support
    
    plaintiff and the children, as well as himself in accordance
    
    with the marital standard of living.
    
    
    
    
                                                 30                                          A-3582-10T1
          Each      of     these     considerations          must        be    weighed        when
    
    considering          plaintiff's        request         for      permanent         alimony.
    
    Following       our     review,        we     conclude         the    judge,       however,
    
    incorrectly          evaluated        the      evidence,        primarily         rejecting
    
    permanent alimony because of the misconception that a fifteen-
    
    year marriage would not support a permanent alimony award.                                This
    
    legal     error      permeated        his     overall     consideration           of   other
    
    statutory factors, resulting in an impermissibly conclusory and
    
    cursory analysis.         See Carter v. Carter, 
    318 N.J. Super. 34
    , 42
    
    (App. Div. 1999) (criticizing trial judge's failure to adhere to
    
    statutory mandate of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b).
    
          We conclude the trial judge                   failed to fully assess all
    
    evidence        regarding       the         fifteen-year        marital         enterprise,
    
    including plaintiff's inability to achieve something close to
    
    the   marital        standard    of    living      in    the    future,         without    the
    
    benefit    of     defendant's     economic         assistance.            The    failure    to
    
    adhere to the statutory obligation to "make specific findings on
    
    the evidence about [all] the above factors[,]" N.J.S.A. 2A:34-
    
    23c, was error.           Accordingly, the award of limited duration
    
    alimony is reversed and the matter is remanded for an evaluation
    
    of an award of permanent alimony.                       See Gotlib v. Gotlib, 
    399 N.J. Super. 295
    , 309 (App. Div. 2008) (providing if a "court
    
    
    
    
                                                  31                                    A-3582-10T1
    ignores applicable standards, we are compelled to reverse and
    
    remand for further proceedings").
    
                                             B.
    
           Plaintiff next argues the judge abused his discretion in
    
    averaging    the       parties'   expenses       over        several     years    when
    
    computing   the    marital     lifestyle       and    plaintiff's       needs.     She
    
    suggests the judge's calculations "perpetuate the impoverishment
    
    of the dependent spouse."         We are not persuaded.
    
           We reject plaintiff's suggestion that the marital standard
    
    of living, as used in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b(4), is defined by the
    
    dollar amount of expenses incurred immediately prior to filing
    
    for    divorce.        The   "standard    of    living       enjoyed     during    the
    
    marriage"    is    a    concept    that       certainly       includes     objective
    
    criteria, such as the actual amount spent for mortgages, real
    
    estate taxes, car payments, and food expenses.                          However, it
    
    also encompasses more subtle components such as the intervals
    
    between car purchases, whether there has been a preference for
    
    new or pre-owned vehicles, and the frequency of and nature of
    
    restaurants when dining out.
    
           This record reflects the trial judge's keen awareness of
    
    all aspects of the parties' standard of living.                        He stated the
    
    parties lived well, but not extravagantly, and spent less than
    
    what    defendant's      salary   suggested          could    be   afforded.         He
    
    
    
    
                                             32                                  A-3582-10T1
    accepted much of plaintiff's claimed budget, though reduced to
    
    disallow certain inflated or inapplicable expenses.                   The judge's
    
    assessment of the substantial, credible evidence resulted in a
    
    reduction from plaintiff's asserted monthly expenses of $21,041
    
    to    the   $18,000     budget    the    judge   found    to   more    accurately
    
    reflected expenses.
    
           Further,   the    judge     fully    assessed     plaintiff's    needs    in
    
    reaching his findings.             The judge understood plaintiff's CIS
    
    budget addressed the needs of plaintiff and the children, and
    
    did not include a reserve for income taxes or savings.                          We
    
    determine that once the children's needs, satisfied by the basic
    
    and supplemental child support awards, are removed, the monthly
    
    sum awarded sufficiently includes estimated income taxes.
    
           However, we cannot discern from the opinion what findings
    
    and    conclusions      were     drawn     regarding   plaintiff's      requested
    
    savings     component,    supported      by   Fernandez's      testimony,   which
    
    opined on the level of savings by the parties over the last four
    
    years.      Indeed, a court may design an award sufficient to permit
    
    the supported spouse to bolster his or her savings to "protect
    
    . . . against the day when alimony payments may cease" due to
    
    the supporting spouse's death or other change in circumstances.
    
    Khalaf v. Khalaf, 
    58 N.J. 63
    , 70 (1971) (citation omitted).
    
    
    
    
                                             33                              A-3582-10T1
          "Trial judges are under a duty to make findings of fact and
    
    to state reasons in support of their conclusions."                            Heinl v.
    
    Heinl, 
    287 N.J. Super. 337
    , 347 (App. Div. 1996) (citing R. 1:7-
    
    4).   "'Meaningful appellate review is inhibited unless the judge
    
    sets forth the reasons for his or her opinion.'"                          Strahan v.
    
    Strahan, 
    402 N.J. Super. 298
    , 310 (App. Div. 2008) (quoting
    
    Salch v. Salch, 
    240 N.J. Super. 441
    , 443 (App. Div. 1990)).                           On
    
    remand,    we     direct     the     judge        to   review    and   make   findings
    
    regarding N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23b(8), which requires alimony awards
    
    take into consideration "the opportunity for future acquisitions
    
    of capital assets and income[.]"                       The court must clearly set
    
    forth factual findings and legal conclusions for the benefit of
    
    the   parties     and   to   aid     appellate         review.     See   R.   1:7-4(a)
    
    (denoting a trial court's obligation to make findings of fact
    
    and state conclusions of law following hearings resulting in
    
    orders appealable as of right).
    
                                                 C.
    
          Plaintiff argues the court erred in imputing income to her
    
    of $65,000 per year.           Further, the judge "unfairly" concluded
    
    she had "done nothing" pendente lite to obtain employment, and
    
    erred in immediately imputing this level of earnings, without
    
    allowing    any     period     for     retraining         and    workforce    reentry.
    
    Although we would have preferred more detailed factual findings
    
    
    
    
                                                 34                                A-3582-10T1
    regarding imputed income, we cannot agree the income imputation
    
    or its amount was erroneous.           However, we must remand regarding
    
    the effective date of imputation, as there is no evidence to
    
    support     the    court's     conclusion     plaintiff   could   immediately
    
    commence earning $65,000 per year.
    
           In computing alimony, "[i]ncome may be imputed to a party
    
    who    is   voluntarily   unemployed     or    underemployed."     Golian     v.
    
    Golian, 
    344 N.J. Super. 337
    , 341 (App. Div. 2001) (citation
    
    omitted).      "Imputation of income is a discretionary matter not
    
    capable of precise or exact determination but rather requiring a
    
    trial judge to realistically appraise capacity to earn and job
    
    availability."       Storey v. Storey, 
    373 N.J. Super. 464
    , 474 (App.
    
    Div. 2004) (citation omitted).          A trial judge's determination in
    
    this    regard    will   not   be   disturbed    absent   an   abuse   of   that
    
    discretion.       Robertson, supra, 381 N.J. Super. at 206.
    
           In deciding if income should be imputed, the court must
    
    determine "whether the [spouse] has just cause" for voluntarily
    
    remaining unemployed or underemployed.              Caplan v. Caplan, 
    182 N.J. 250
    , 268 (2005).          In assessing just cause, the court should
    
    assess factors such as the ages of the children and "the reason
    
    and intent for the voluntary underemployment or unemployment[.]"
    
    Pressler & Verniero, Current N.J. Court Rules, Appendix IX-A,
    
    Comment 12, at 2551 (2013).
    
    
    
    
                                           35                              A-3582-10T1
           Here, the judge properly performed this analysis.                       Although
    
    plaintiff had been absent from the workforce for many years, she
    
    retains the obligation to contribute to her support.                          Both when
    
    setting child support and in reaching a proper alimony award, a
    
    judge must examine not only each party's income, but also his or
    
    her earning ability.              See Lynn v. Lynn, 
    165 N.J. Super. 328
    ,
    
    341-42      (App.    Div.)       (noting    earning    capacity        or    prospective
    
    earnings are proper elements for the court's consideration when
    
    determining the amount of alimony to be paid), certif. denied,
    
    
    81 N.J. 52
           (1979).
    
           Relying      on    the    experts'     opinions     and     plaintiff's      past
    
    achievements,        education,      and     experience,     the    judge     concluded
    
    plaintiff's employment as a computer programmer would result in
    
    a salary between $61,200 and $94,000.                  He chose to impute income
    
    toward the lower end of this range, $65,000, understanding time
    
    had elapsed since plaintiff last performed the tasks of this
    
    job.     We conclude the substantial, credible evidence in the
    
    record      supports      this    finding,     which   will      not    be   disturbed.
    
    Cesare, supra, 154 N.J. at 412.
    
           We also reject as unfounded plaintiff's argument that the
    
    judge should have imputed income based on plaintiff's plans to
    
    become a teacher, rather than a computer programmer.                         Imputation
    
    must   be    based       on   earning      capacity,   not    employment       desires.
    
    
    
    
                                                 36                                 A-3582-10T1
    Plaintiff remains free to pursue her dreams as "[a]ny party is
    
    free to retire, take a vow of poverty, write poetry or hawk
    
    roses in an airport, if he or she sees fit."           Deegan v. Deegan,
    
    
    254 N.J. Super. 350
    , 358-59 (App. Div. 1992).           However, she may
    
    not shed her obligations to contribute as best she is able to
    
    her support and that of her children.       Ibid.
    
          The record, however, does not support the judge's finding
    
    plaintiff had "voluntarily chosen not to become employed" by
    
    failing to obtain employment or retraining pendente lite.                   We
    
    are aware of no authority mandating a dependent spouse, absent
    
    from the workforce, by agreement, for a significant period of
    
    time, to immediately prepare for and return to work pendente
    
    lite, absent notice of this expectation presented by motion or
    
    court directive.     We are not suggesting able spouses do not hold
    
    a   responsibility   to   support   themselves;   we   are   only   finding
    
    there is no support in this record for the judge's conclusion
    
    resulting in the immediate imputation of $65,000 annual income.
    
          Both employability experts agreed plaintiff needed a period
    
    of retraining before she would be able to secure employment.
    
    Plaintiff had not worked in ten years and her past skills were
    
    stale.   Plaintiff's lack of outside employment over this period
    
    in part resulted from the need to care for three children, and
    
    likely   was   reinforced     by    defendant's     financial       success.
    
    
    
    
                                        37                              A-3582-10T1
    Beginning in 2007, defendant's total annual compensation topped
    
    $1 million.       Also, in 2006, plaintiff underwent brain surgery.
    
    Moreover, the issue of plaintiff's return to work was never
    
    broached pendente lite.             The pendente lite record contains no
    
    request by defendant for plaintiff's resumption of employment,
    
    and   there    are    no   orders    mandating    she    secure   retraining    or
    
    allocating funds to enable her to seek training or "prepare
    
    herself to re-enter the workforce," as the trial judge found she
    
    neglected to do.
    
           Overall, we do not view these facts as obviously presenting
    
    a    mandate   for    plaintiff's     resumption    of    employment    pendente
    
    lite.     Unlike a short-term marital relationship, one where both
    
    parties had continuously worked but one suddenly stopped, or one
    
    where the parties had no children and their needs could not be
    
    sustained solely by one working spouse, the facts here do not
    
    suggest     the      parties    themselves       anticipated      an   immediate
    
    resumption of employment by the dependent spouse.                  Rather, these
    
    facts strongly suggest the parties held no expectation plaintiff
    
    should immediately return to work.
    
           This determination does not diminish plaintiff's ultimate
    
    responsibility, and we agree the obligation to contribute to her
    
    own and the children's support has been satisfactorily shown.
    
    We    conclude,      however,   the    judge     abused    his    discretion    by
    
    
    
    
                                            38                              A-3582-10T1
    immediately imputing a prospective salary attainable only upon
    
    retraining,   as   no    evidence   supports       the     finding     plaintiff
    
    ignored her pendente lite responsibilities to obtain work.                   This
    
    portion of the judgment is reversed.           On remand, the effective
    
    date of imputation must be made based on the evidential record,
    
    after   consideration    of   the   time   and      cost     for     plaintiff's
    
    retraining.
    
                                        D.
    
        Next, both parties challenge the amount awarded for child
    
    support:   plaintiff argues the award was too low, and defendant
    
    argues it was too high.       The lack of meaningful factual findings
    
    requires this issue also be reexamined.
    
        Initially,     the   court   calculated    a    basic     support    award,
    
    using the Child Support Guidelines (guidelines), R. 5:6A, of
    
    $501 per week.     The judge further ordered a supplemental award
    
    of $25,000 per child per year, from which the maximum allowable
    
    federal gift tax exclusion was to be deposited into each of the
    
    children's existing UGMA for higher education, and the balance
    
    remitted to plaintiff in equal monthly installments.
    
        Following plaintiff's post-judgment motion, an error in the
    
    basic child support calculation was identified and corrected to
    
    $997 per week.     The court then adjusted the supplemental award,
    
    reducing it to $1600 per month, or $19,200, presumably per child
    
    
    
    
                                        39                                  A-3582-10T1
    per year.     Plaintiff agrees the amount of the supplemental award
    
    should     have     been    modified        after       correction       to   the       base
    
    guidelines amount.          However, she claims an abuse of discretion
    
    occurred because total support was reduced and the supplemental
    
    support was restricted to require deposit into the children's
    
    UGMA     accounts,     absent        the     parties'        agreement        otherwise.
    
    Plaintiff seeks unrestricted control of the entire supplemental
    
    child support award.
    
           Defendant      argues       the     child     support      exceeds        what    is
    
    necessary to meet the family's lifestyle, and the basis for the
    
    amount of the supplemental award was not sufficiently stated,
    
    making it unfounded.          Also, he argues, following the correction,
    
    child     support     was    increased        by     $8392       per     year,    without
    
    explanation.
    
           Even though a supplemental support amount in addition to
    
    the     guideline's    base        amount    is     authorized         because    of     the
    
    parties'    high    level     of    income,       the    judge    must    identify       the
    
    nature of the children's supplemental needs to be satisfied by
    
    the supplemental support awarded.                   See Caplan, supra, 182 N.J.
    
    at 272 (noting that the trial court may take any reasonable
    
    approach in arriving at an appropriate award); Strahan, supra,
    
    402 N.J. Super. at 309-10 (same).                       We reject claims that the
    
    judge     improperly       considered       the     parties'      past     practice       of
    
    
    
    
                                                40                                    A-3582-10T1
    funding     the    children's          anticipated       higher          education      costs
    
    through annual deposits into the UGMA accounts.                               See Strahan,
    
    supra, 402 N.J. Super. at 311 (criticizing an above-guidelines
    
    child support award absent evidence of some "marital standard"
    
    regarding       "the   way    the     parties       treated    the       children").        We
    
    merely require the court to express those needs, in addition to
    
    the annual past practice of saving for the children's education,
    
    to be satisfied by the supplemental support award.
    
         Following         our    review,    we    agree    necessary         factfinding       to
    
    sustain the supplemental support award must be enhanced.                                  The
    
    judge must explain how the amount of the supplemental award was
    
    calculated, and the circumstances considered in restricting an
    
    amount designated for deposit into the UGMA accounts.                               Finally,
    
    the judge must explain why the total support amount changed,
    
    after it was corrected to comply with the guidelines.7
    
         We    generally         reject    defendant's      argument          that    the   basic
    
    child   support        amount    was    too    high    in     light      of   the    court's
    
    findings regarding the family's budget.                       The $18,000 per month
    
    needs     did    not    include        the    tax    obligation          associated      with
    
    plaintiff's       alimony       receipt.        26    U.S.C.A.       §    71(a)     (stating
    
    "[g]ross    income      includes       amounts       received    as       alimony").        We
    
    7
         Our calculations align with defendant's, such that the
    total of all support — basic and supplemental — increased by
    $8392 per year.
    
    
    
                                                  41                                    A-3582-10T1
    reject as specious defendant's contention the total alimony and
    
    child        support        receipts         exceeded      plaintiff's           budget.
    
    Nevertheless, based on our conclusions regarding the need to
    
    review the alimony award, we note that if the amount of alimony
    
    is     adjusted,     the     amount     of    basic     child    support       must     be
    
    recomputed.
    
                                                 E.
    
           In her final points, plaintiff argues the court abused its
    
    discretion in:          (1) awarding her one-half of the remainder of
    
    defendant's 2007 cash bonus paid in 2008, as support, rather
    
    than granting her allocable share as equitable distribution; and
    
    (2) concluding she received her interest in defendant's 2008
    
    bonus     as      pendent     lite     support.          Plaintiff        also      urges
    
    modification of the division of the 2009 income tax refunds.
    
           Pendente      lite,     the      motion     judge        ordered    an       equal
    
    distribution of the funds remaining from the 2007 cash bonus, in
    
    lieu    of     immediately     calculating        defendant's      monthly       support
    
    obligation.        The dispute centered on whether the bonus received
    
    and    deposited     into    the     joint    checking    account    was       an   asset
    
    subject      to    equitable       distribution,         for    which     plaintiff's
    
    entitlement was distinct.              Plaintiff maintains allowing use of
    
    the     monies     to   satisfy        defendant's       pendente       lite     support
    
    
    
    
                                                 42                                  A-3582-10T1
    obligations was legal error.          She argues defendant retained his
    
    base salary and half of his bonus and did not pay support.
    
        Shortly after the gross bonus of $766,507 was received in
    
    February 2008, the complaint for divorce was filed and pendente
    
    lite requests were considered.             Because the court divided the
    
    balance of the monies held in the checking account to satisfy
    
    pendente lite support, plaintiff states she exhausted her share
    
    of the asset to meet ongoing household expenses that should have
    
    been provided by defendant's current income.            On the other hand,
    
    defendant was not only freed from paying pendente lite support,
    
    but also retained his salary and his share of the asset for his
    
    own use and enjoyment.
    
        Following trial, the judge did not consider this issue,
    
    though   it   had   been   reserved   for    final   determination   in    the
    
    pendente lite order.       On remand, the treatment and allocation of
    
    the 2007 bonus paid in February 2008 must be considered.
    
        As for the 2008 bonus, the judge determined the amount
    
    subject to equitable distribution was limited to the period of
    
    the marriage, ending upon the initiation of the divorce action.
    
    The complaint was filed on March 10, 2008, so plaintiff's one-
    
    half interest in the sum earned between January 1, and March 10,
    
    2008, was calculated as $108,300.             The judge then concluded,
    
    "whatever amount was due [plaintiff] from the 2008 bonus ha[d]
    
    
    
    
                                          43                             A-3582-10T1
    been more than offset by the more than two years of tax[-]free
    
    payments,    both    lump    sum       and      periodic,       [she]    ha[d]     received
    
    during    the    pendency       of    the       divorce     action[,]"        computed      to
    
    average approximatly $22,000 per month.
    
        At trial, defendant argued he negotiated his bonus, paid in
    
    February 2009, at the time of his promotion in May 2008 — two
    
    months    following      plaintiff's         filing       for     divorce.        The    trial
    
    judge's opinion does not make specific credibility findings, but
    
    the inference to be made from the decision is that the judge
    
    accepted defendant's testimony regarding his negotiation of the
    
    2008 bonus.        The record contains no contrary information.                            On
    
    appeal,    plaintiff      urges       a     different      treatment         of   the    bonus
    
    funds,    baldly    asserting         the    bonus       amount    resulted       from    "the
    
    momentum    and     impact       of       the        marriage."         We    reject      this
    
    proposition as without evidential support, and decline to alter
    
    the judge's findings and conclusions.
    
        Plaintiff lastly argues she held an entitlement to refunds
    
    resulting from the parties' joint 2009 state and federal tax
    
    returns.        During    the     post-judgment            reconsideration         motions,
    
    defendant sought retention of the refund because plaintiff had
    
    no taxable income.           The judge agreed.                    On appeal, plaintiff
    
    suggests    defendant's      proofs         were       insufficient      to   support     the
    
    
    
    
                                                    44                                  A-3582-10T1
    result.        We conclude the argument lacks sufficient merit to
    
    warrant discussion in our opinion.                    R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
    
                                                   F.
    
           In his cross-appeal, defendant attacks the order to pay
    
    plaintiff's         counsel    fees      and    challenges       the   amount     of   life
    
    insurance he was ordered to provide.                         We disagree the judge
    
    abused    his    discretion         by    ordering        defendant    to   satisfy     the
    
    balance of plaintiff's outstanding attorney's fees and costs.
    
    We determine, however, a factual error occurred in the review of
    
    the life insurance issue, necessitating reversal and remand.
    
                                                   1.
    
           Fees    in    family       actions      are    normally    awarded    to    permit
    
    parties with unequal financial positions to litigate on an equal
    
    footing.       A counsel fee award is left to the sound discretion of
    
    the trial court, after consideration of the factors identified
    
    in Rule 5:3-5(c).           We will disturb a trial court's determination
    
    of a counsel fee award "only on the rarest occasions, and then
    
    only   because       of    a   clear      abuse      of   discretion."       Rendine     v.
    
    Pantzer, 
    141 N.J. 292
    , 317 (1995).
    
           Here,    the       judge    properly         and   carefully    considered       all
    
    applicable       factors       and       exercised        reasonable     discretion      in
    
    ordering       defendant          to     pay      the     balance      of   plaintiff's
    
    
    
    
                                                   45                                 A-3582-10T1
    outstanding counsel fees.            We identify no basis to set aside
    
    that order.
    
                                           2.
    
        The final issue raised in defendant's cross-appeal focuses
    
    on his obligation to retain life insurance to secure his support
    
    obligations.      See   N.J.S.A.     2A:34-25    (providing     authority     for
    
    requiring life insurance as security for an alimony or child
    
    support obligation).       The judge denied defendant's motion for
    
    reconsideration    seeking      to    annually     reduce      the   amount   of
    
    insurance designed to guarantee alimony, apparently because he
    
    misunderstood the motion.            In denying        the motion, the judge
    
    stated,   "[defendant]'s       application      that    [plaintiff]    maintain
    
    life insurance in the amount of $500,000 per each of the three
    
    children until a child is emancipated misses the fact that he is
    
    the dominant income earner and supporting parent."
    
        This issue too is subject to review on remand.                       First,
    
    defendant's    request    on    reconsideration          was   not   addressed.
    
    Second, an allocation of the total amount of life insurance
    
    between plaintiff and the children must be made.                 The ambiguous
    
    requirement that plaintiff be named a beneficiary "to the extent
    
    of her interest" cannot stand.
    
    
    
    
                                           46                              A-3582-10T1
                                                 IV.
    
           In    summary,      we   reverse      the   order      of   limited    duration
    
    alimony and remand for consideration of an award of permanent
    
    alimony.        Regarding       this    issue,     we    affirm    the    calculations
    
    fixing the marital lifestyle, except with respect to the issue
    
    of savings.       The judge must consider plaintiff's budget request
    
    and provide specific findings and conclusions on this issue.
    
    The determination to impute income to plaintiff is affirmed.
    
    However, we reverse as to the commencement of income imputation.
    
    On remand, the judge must consider the time and money necessary
    
    for   plaintiff       to   update      her   skills     to   enable   her    to    obtain
    
    employment at the level so imputed.                      The basic child support
    
    amount is affirmed, subject to recompilation in the event of
    
    changes in the amount of alimony.                     Also on remand, the judge
    
    must articulate findings and conclusions regarding the nature of
    
    the supplemental child support award and must analyze the basis
    
    for restriction of a substantial portion of that award.                                   We
    
    affirm the determination regarding the 2008 bonus and remand for
    
    findings and conclusions on the distribution of the 2007 bonus.
    
    We    affirm    the    determination          regarding      the   2009     income      tax
    
    refund.       On the cross-appeal, we affirm the award of counsel
    
    fees.       We remand for clarification of defendant's life insurance
    
    obligations.          The judge must consider defendant's request to
    
    
    
    
                                                 47                                   A-3582-10T1
    annually   reduce   the   life   insurance   component   securing   his
    
    alimony obligation and specifically allocate the amount of life
    
    insurance between plaintiff and the children.
    
        Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.           We do
    
    not retain jurisdiction.
    
    
    
    
                                      48                          A-3582-10T1