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Appeals court ruling in dementia divorce case upholds prenup

Back in June, we presented the case of a man with dementia who wanted to divorce his wife. The question presented was whether he could proceed with the divorce in light of his mental incapacitation. Since then, the case has taken a number of twists. But after a recent appeals court decision, it appears the matter is all but resolved.

It appears the man will not be able to press his divorce, and the man's wife stands to eventually come into a $10 million sum, as stipulated by a prenuptial agreement. She gets the money if he dies while they are married, but not if they divorce. The appellate court decision effectively reverses findings by the lower court.

The case is interesting for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all because of the harsh words the appeals court had for the lower court's handling of things. The case happened in a state other than Mississippi, but the issues seem to bear attention.

On one side were the 87-year-old real estate magnate and his adult children. On the other was the magnate's 80-year-old wife of 15 years. The children had gone to probate court asking that their father declared incompetent and to have themselves appointed guardians over his affairs. They also alleged abuse by the stepmother.

But in a wrinkle, they also asked that their father be declared fit enough to handle his own divorce. If he won, the stepmother would be out the $10 million prenup award. The lower court agreed. It also ordered the wife out of the couple's condo.

As it happens, the laws of that state require spouses to file for divorce personally. Guardians can't do it for their wards. And in cases where one of the spouses is deemed mentally unfit, there's a three-year waiting period before an action can proceed.

The appeals court says the judge erred by making the case more about the financial issues than about what was best for the dementia-stricken father. It also said that by failing to put the wife and children on equal legal footing, the judge had denied her due process.

The appeals court specifically blasted the lower court judge for accepting what it called the children's apparent "legal hocus pocus" to get around the prenuptial agreement and state law on divorce.

This reflects the importance of presenting a strong defense when personal rights are challenged.

Source: Palm Beach Post, "Appeals court blasts judge’s order to make woman, 80, leave condo," Jane Musgrave, Sept. 2, 2015

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