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Can Mentally Incompetent Spouses Seek Divorce?

Mentally Incompetent Kentucky Man Seeks Divorce from His Wife and Guardian

The Supreme Court of Kentucky is deliberating on whether to allow a mentally incompetent man to divorce his wife and guardian of many years, according to MS News Now Jackson. The man, 80-year-old Elmer Riehle, wants to separate from his wife because she had prevented him from spending much of their money. His wife Carolyn put Elmer on a $200 per month allowance after having a court declare Elmer mentally incompetent. She made the legal move after Elmer began sending thousands of dollars per month to an online scam artist.

Kentucky Law Prevents Incompetent Spouses from Seeking Divorce

The current law in Kentucky provides that a court cannot grant a mentally incompetent person a divorce, a precedent the Supreme Court set in 1943. Kentucky is one of only ten jurisdictions nationwide that has kept in place such a ban against granting divorces to mentally incompetent people. According to ABC News, Riehle’s situation has additional complications. For example, although a court has deemed Riehle mentally incompetent, he is still able to take taxis and move around independently throughout the day. Carolyn Riehle’s lawyer says that Elmer is able to perform certain tasks by himself while still not having the capacity to handle money.

Mississippi Law Allows Incompetent Spouses to Maintain a Divorce Action

In Mississippi, it is grounds for annulling a marriage if a judge finds that one or both parties were mentally ill or mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage. Mississippi has fault grounds for divorce. One such ground is that the other party to the marriage has become incurably insane. However, Mississippi courts have not definitively resolved the question of whether a mentally incompetent spouse can seek a divorce. Most states do not treat mentally incompetent spouses differently when it comes to requesting a divorce, so it’s unlikely that Mississippi would prevent an incompetent spouse from getting a divorce. However, in cases like Riehle’s where the other spouse is also the guardian of the mentally incompetent spouse seeking divorce, the court will most likely appoint a new guardian to prevent conflicts of interest.

In Mississippi, Riehle Would Have Trouble Getting a Divorce

If Riehle’s case were to come before a court in Mississippi, he would likely be able to proceed with his divorce action against Carolyn. However, since Mississippi has fault grounds for divorce, Elmer would need to establish a reason for seeking a divorce in order to succeed. Since there is no indication that Carolyn herself also has any mental health issues, Riehle could not use this as grounds for divorce. The only ground for divorce that might apply in Mississippi in a case like Riehle’s would be “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” However, simply preventing Riehle from accessing money is not a grounds for divorce. In fact, since a court has already deemed Elmer incompetent, none of Carolyn’s caretaking actions would be grounds for a divorce unless she put her husband in fear of his life or safety. On the other hand, if Carolyn agreed to the divorce, it would not be necessary to prove any grounds for the divorce action.

Find a Attorney That has Expertise in Family Law

Divorce can be extremely stressful and complicated. That’s why you need a lawyer who understands what you’re going through. Call an experienced divorce and family lawyer at the office of Derek L. Hall, PLLC in Jackson today to get the representation you need.

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