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Unusual Divorce Case Exposes Florida’s Unusual Legal Requirement

In West Palm Beach, Martin Zelman is attempting to divorce his elderly wife, Lois. Lois Zelman is fighting not just for her fair share of assets, though. She’s fighting to stop her husband from divorcing her entirely.

Martin Zelman is worth over $50 million and has been with Lois for 22 years. He also suffers from dementia. Mr. Zelman cannot name the president of the United States, nor can he state what year it is. The Zelmans’ children stand to receive millions if their parents divorce, but Lois stands to gain even more if the marriage lasts. The conflict has exposed a little-referenced requirement in Florida divorce law: a mandatory waiting period in cases in which one spouse is mentally ill.

A Con, or Just a Separation?

The Zelman children stand to gain about ten million dollars of their father’s money each if their parents divorce. However, Lois remains in possession of the majority of Martin’s vast estate if the two remain married. The bitter standoff has pitted the children against their mother, while each side files petition after petition to remove Martin’s right to sue, his ability to manage his own assets and property, and his ability to determine for himself whether he divorces his wife. On one side, Zelman’s children allege that Lois Zelman is manipulating and abusing her ill husband in order to keep a handle on Martin Zelman’s purse strings. On the other, Lois Zelman claims her children are trying to greedily dissolve and take over their infirm father’s fortune.

However, it’s not clear who, if anyone, is manipulating Martin. Isn’t it possible Martin really does want to dissolve his marriage? To resolve the dispute, Florida courts are considering reviving the waiting period.

The Florida Divorce Waiting Period

In the state of Florida, policymakers want to discourage older individuals from simply divorcing and abandoning ill spouses without permitting them an opportunity to defend themselves. So, the Florida legislature requires a three-year waiting period when one spouse is incapacitated or suffers from dementia, or a similar mental illness, before the couple can be divorced. Typically, however, the law is enforced when it’s the competent spouse trying to divorce, not when it’s the victim of mental illness initiating the separation, as Martin Zelman is in this case. Florida courts are now considering whether the law applies and, if so, how it will affect Martin Zelman’s estate.

What Will Happen Now?

Unfortunately, the Zelmans’ case is locked in litigation limbo, with differing propositions on all sides and a large legal knot to untangle. Courts continue to fight over what Martin Zelman is capable of doing, what should be legally permitted, and whether the divorce should proceed.

However, not all divorces need to be this thorny. If you’re involved in a separation or divorce proceedings, avoid difficulties by seeking reliable and experienced representation. Contact an experienced Boca Raton divorce and family attorney at Schwartz | White at 561-391-9943 today for a consultation.

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