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What Does Mental Capacity Have To Do With a Boca Raton Divorce?

An interesting case out of Palm Beach raises the question of the level of mental capacity required in order for a Florida resident to obtain a divorce.

Florida divorce and mental incapacity

Under Florida law mental incapacitation is grounds for divorce. However, it is usually the spouse who has capacity that seeks the divorce, based on the other’s incapacitation. Because the state does not want a newly incapacitated person to be left high and dry, divorce is not permitted until three years have passed since the court declared the spouse incapacitated.

In the Palm Beach case, the court declared the husband mentally incapacitated, evicted the wife from the couple’s home and named his son from a prior marriage guardian. Under the law, the incapacitation should have prevented the husband from filing for divorce for three years. However, the guardianship order allowed the husband to retain the right to sue – which includes filing for divorce. This would avoid the implementation of the three-year waiting period for divorce normally triggered by a finding of mental incapacitation, since he was expressly granted the right to file for divorce.

In this case, there is an issue over money – namely, $10 million the husband promised his wife under a prenuptial agreement at his death. In the event of divorce, the wife gets nothing. But the prenuptial agreement contained an interesting caveat, as though the couple anticipated a third-party attempting to have the husband declared mentally incapacitated for the sole purpose of getting a divorce to thwart the agreement. Under the terms of the prenuptial agreement, divorce only trumps the prenup if the husband files himself; filing through a guardian does nothing to negate it.

As the divorce judge pointed out, the distinction between mental unfitness for everything except the ability to sue is an interesting one, and will be one of the key considerations at trial. How can a man be considered mentally incapacitated, to the point that he needs a guardian to handle his personal and financial affairs, yet remain competent enough to decide to end his 15-year marriage? Another interesting wrinkle is that the guardianship order prohibits the husband from getting married. So the husband is competent enough to end a marriage, but incompetent to enter into one? It would seem that the competency levels for each, to marry and to divorce, should be the same. The case will be an interesting one for a variety of reasons, but from a legal standpoint the important issue is the required level of capacity required to obtain a divorce, which could impact future cases of blended families and large marital estates.

Boca Raton Divorce Attorneys

With more than 50 years’ combined experience, the Boca Raton divorce attorneys at Schwartz l White have been helping clients in the Boca Raton area in their divorce proceedings, from simple, uncontested cases to contested cases with complicated issues regarding division of assets. Whatever the issue, our attorneys handle each case with integrity, compassion, and the experience necessary to get you a fair and equitable settlement. Call our office today at 561-391-9943, or complete our web form, to schedule a free initial consultation.

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