The ABA Journal today reports on the interesting case of Mr. Claude Thomas, 87, of Ellis County, Texas. According to the article, Mr. Thomas' son, Keith Thomas, was unaware his father had gotten married to Ms. Susana Ramirez, 45, until the younger Thomas received a call about overdraft charges from his father's bank. Now, Keith Thomas is attempting to secure a divorce for his father whom the Dallas Morning News is in the beginning stages of dementia.
I was actually involved in a similar case several years ago. In that case, the father actually remained pretty sharp, but had been conned into marrying a barmaid from his local watering hole. Not long after she had a ring on her finger, she started taking dad for everything he owned. It got so bad, she did not even live with him, but would show up once a month when he received his pension check and wipe him out. Unfortunately, since the father retained sufficient capacity to understand what was happening, we could not get the marriage voided. However, I successfully argued that her share of the marital estate should be drastically reduced due to the fact that she really had not contributed anything to the marriage. It was a bizarre case and I truly believe the old man was just hanging on out of stubbornness. We got him divorced and he then passed away before all of the property issues were settled so we had to substitute his estate into the divorce case.
Fortunately, in my case the father had capacity to sign the divorce petition. In situations where a petitioner lacks capacity, his guardian generally cannot prosecute a divorce action on his behalf. These types of cases illustrate the importance of having a strong estate plan in place and keeping an eye on relatives that might be vulnerable to being taken advantage of.