A very unique case has made the news recently in Florida. A West Palm Beach man has filed for divorce from his wife. The unique part? He has dementia. He can’t name the president, doesn’t know what year it is, and can’t recall the date of a major holiday. Is this man mentally competent to file for divorce? This is the complex legal battle unfolding in court now between the man’s wife and his children.

Martin Zelman is 87 years old; his wife Lois is 80. They have been together for 22 years. Zelman’s 3 adult children claim that Zelman is miserable with Lois. Caregivers have testified that Lois has been mistreating Zelman. On the other hand, several friends and church leaders have testified that Zelman and Lois are a loving couple. The children and Lois both agree that Zelman has dementia, and both sides insist that they are trying to protect Zelman. Both sides also claim that this legal battle is all about money. The children stand to inherit about $10 million dollars if Zelman and Lois are no longer married when Zelman dies. They claim that Lois is only fighting the divorce because she wants the money. Lois answered, “I was with him for 22 years. The money wasn’t the be all, end all. He was handsome. He was charismatic. I married him because I loved him. I still do.”

Part of what makes this case so complex is the little-known Florida law which imposes a 3 year waiting period in cases where one of the spouses has been declared mentally unfit.  The law was designed to prevent healthy individuals from leaving mentally unfit spouses who would have no ability to defend themselves. A case like Zelman vs Zelman is extremely rare; the mentally unfit spouse almost never files for divorce in these cases.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.

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