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Mom, guardian change divorce law for spouses with mental disabilities

The Illinois Supreme Court handed down a decision earlier this month that marks a significant shift in public policy. It also marks a profound victory for people with mental disabilities.

The couple in this case had been married for 13 years when the wife was injured in a car accident. She suffered brain damage in the crash and became completely disabled. For the past 14 years she has needed round-the-clock care. The court appointed her husband as her guardian.

With the proceeds of a personal injury settlement from the accident, her husband set up an annuity that would fund her care for the remainder of her life. And, until 2004, the wife was able to live at home. The husband's Parkinson's disease changed that, though, and their daughter took over as guardian.

They would live apart, but they would still be married. When the daughter -- the wife's child from an earlier marriage, she was adopted by the husband -- took over as her mother's guardian, she and the husband entered into a property settlement that divided the proceeds from the sale of the couple's home and joint accounts; the agreement also spelled out the division of personal property. With all of this taken care of, mother and daughter moved away from Illinois.

As described in the Supreme Court's decision, the agreement looks a lot like a legal separation. After the settlement was signed, all that the couple had in common was the fact of their marriage. (They have a son who was born with mental disabilities; he has lived in a constant care facility all his life. His care was not at issue in any of these proceedings.)

It may not have come as a surprise to their daughter that the husband eventually filed for divorce. The wife, represented by her daughter, agreed, but this is where things got complicated for everyone. We'll explain in our next post.

Sources:

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, WL 4712030 (Illinois, 2012), Oct. 4, 2012

Our firm works with couples who have unique property division needs similar to the couple discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Lake County, Illinois, divorce and family law support page.

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