We are concluding our discussion of a recent Illinois Supreme Court case. The case is an unusual one for family lawyers, because it deals directly with circumstances that, to be honest, don't come up that often. A wife suffered severe injuries in a car accident during the marriage and became mentally disabled. Her husband's own health issues ended his guardianship of her, and their daughter took over. When the question of divorce arose, though, the daughter's role as guardian was not entirely clear.
It may seem as if not many families will find themselves in this situation. Consider, though, that the Baby Boom generation is aging -- faster than they'd like, perhaps -- and age-related conditions and diseases will affect a certain portion of the generation's cognitive abilities. This case paves the way for all guardians of people with disabilities to act on behalf of their wards. This decision removes a barrier to legal equality for people with mental disabilities.
The lower courts looked at Illinois statute and case law and found that the state did not specifically recognize the right of the daughter, as her mother's guardian, to file for divorce on her mother's behalf. The Supreme Court, however, agreed with the daughter that the state had abandoned that strict construction approach in favor of an "implied authority" reading of the statute.
The decision explains that the strict construction approach was born of the "old" way of thinking about divorce, of the idea that one spouse must be at fault for a divorce to be granted. The advent of no-fault divorce set aside the idea that a person with a mental disability could not understand the concept of fault and, so, could not ask for a divorce.
In doing so, no-fault divorce ended what legal analysts called the tyranny of the capable spouse over the incapable spouse. The ruling confirms that no public policy is served by allowing one spouse to divorce and the other not to, just as no public policy is served by discriminating against one class of people in favor of another.
Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), "Court opens door to divorce for mentally disabled," Associated Press, Oct. 4, 2012
Karbin v. Karbin ex rel. Hibler, 2012 IL 112815, 2012 WL 4712030 (Illinois, 2012), Oct. 4, 2012
Our firm works with people looking at both simple and complicated divorces like the one discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Illinois family law and divorce page.