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How Mental Capacity Affects Divorce in Florida

A Palm Beach man with dementia, Martin Zelman, is seeking to divorce his wife but does not have the right to sue due to legal technicalities, according to a WPXI News report. Zelman, who married his current wife in 2000, is subject to both a prenuptial agreement and his condition of dementia. The 87-year-old is stuck in between his wife, 80-year-old former Wall Street broker Lois Zelman, who is fighting the divorce, and his three children, who requested their father be declared totally incompetent.

A Complicated Case

The Zelman case, which is presently in Palm Beach County Circuit County Court, is an unusually complex one.

In 2014 Zelman’s son, Robert Zelman, filed petitions in probate court claiming his father was mentally incompetent. The junior Zelman also claimed his step-mother, Mrs. Zelman, was ignoring the needs of his aging father. Accordingly, Zelman the son asked that a guardian be appointed to manage his father’s finances. In a hearing before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis – which included testimony from friends that described the couple as happy and loving, as well as caretakers alleging Mrs. Zelman was abusing her husband – the judge ordered Mrs. Zelman out of the couple’s penthouse and into another property on the complex.

As if incompetency didn’t complicate the legal relationship enough, Zelman junior amended his prior petition to request his father retain certain rights including being able to sue and defend lawsuits. This exception that was carved out is at the heart of the divorce.

The Zelmans signed a prenuptial agreement prior to getting married. Part of the prenuptial agreement stated if Mr. Zelman became incapacitated or died, he wanted Mrs. Zelman “to be protected”. According to the prenuptial agreement, however, Martin had to pursue a divorce himself.

Beyond the declaration of legal incompetence and the prenuptial agreement, Florida law prohibits a person declared to be unfit to divorce for three years. This law is often triggered when a person who is competent attempts to divorce someone who suffers from dementia or some other medical condition. The facts of the Zelman divorce, however, are in reverse. Not surprisingly, another factor in the case is the division of Mr. Zelman’s assets – estimated at $10 million.

Help Available in Orlando

While most family law matters are not as complex as that of Martin Zelman, it is essential to have skilled and competent legal representation when it comes to legal issues. If you or someone you know has questions relating to divorce – or is facing any other family law issue – contact the experienced attorneys at Steve W. Marsee, P.A. Servicing the families of Central Florida for several years, Mr. Marsee can help guide you and your loved ones through any family law-related questions you may have. Call 407-521-7171 to schedule your initial consultation.

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