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Will Florida Courts Grant a Divorce to an Individual With Dementia?

 

87-year-old Martin Zelman of Palm Beach has filed for divorce from his wife of 15 years, though now Florida family courts will have to decide whether or not he truly wants one. Last year, another Florida judge declared Zelman mentally incompetent and appointed his son and daughter as his guardians. With this declaration, Zelman lost the right to make most decisions for himself, however, he retained the right to file legal claims, which allowed him to file a divorce petition. His wife, 80-year-old Lois Zelman, is challenging the validity of the divorce filing as she claims Martin does not, in fact, want to get divorced. She asserts that his three children are behind the divorce and that they have purposefully isolated Martin and fabricated stories that she abused him.

If Lois remains married to Martin until his death, she would retain access to their homes in Palm Beach and New York City, their cars, their club memberships and art, and will receive an estimated $10 million. If the judge grants the divorce, Lois will receive none of Martin’s $50 million dollar estate based on a prenuptial agreement they signed prior to marriage and his children will instead inherit all of his wealth. The judge stated that he will have to determine whether or not each side is simply fighting over money or whether they truly have Martin’s best interests in mind. Each side, of course, claims the case is not about the money.

Divorce Involving an Incapacitated Person in Florida

Florida has a law in place intended to protect mentally incapacitated individuals whose spouses try to divorce them while they cannot defend their rights. The statute requires the filing spouse to wait until the incapacitation has lasted for at least three years before a court can grant a divorce. However, the incapacitated person is generally not the one who is seeking the divorce in the first place.

Even though the probate judge last year found that Martin Zelman had the capacity to file legal claims, the family court could decide that Martin is an incompetent witness, which would halt the divorce proceedings. If the court finds that he does not have the adequate capacity to get divorced, the judge could also potentially make them wait at least three years under the law. It is not clear what this waiting period would accomplish in this particular case, however, as Lois does not want to get divorced. We will have to wait and see what the court decides at an upcoming hearing.

An Experienced Boca Raton Divorce Attorney Can Help You With Your Case

Divorce cases can have many unique issues and you always want to have a lawyer handling your case who thoroughly understands Florida divorce laws and how they apply to your unique situation. Family law attorney Alan R. Burton knows how to handle even the most complicated divorce cases and will always zealously defend your rights. If you are facing divorce or any other type of family law matter, please call our Boca Raton office today at 954-229-1660 to discuss how we can assist you.