Illinois high court permits divorce filed by spouse's guardian

Up until recently in Illinois, mentally disabled people who require guardians could not file for divorce. In order for a person with a mental disability to get divorced, his or her spouse had to make the first move. But groups like Equip for Equality, a disability advocacy organization, have been waiting for the tides to change.

Now a ruling on a Cook County case that went to the Illinois Supreme Court makes it possible for the guardian of a mentally disabled person to file the divorce on the disabled person's behalf. Justice Charles Freeman wrote that the guardian needs to be able to protect the best interests of the ward. That includes protecting the person from being abused or financially exploited by a spouse.

The new ruling will allow judges presiding over divorce cases that involve the mentally disabled to look at each situation individually. Advocates point out that many of the disabled who wish to divorce can articulate themselves clearly, and many of the diagnosed disorders have symptoms that come and go.

Under some circumstances, the judge hearing the case will have to make a decision without any statements from the disabled person seeking a divorce. Other times, depending on the nature of the person's condition, a disabled individual will be able to provide evidence in court.

The change comes after a Cook County couple's daughter sought a divorce on her mother's behalf. Her mother had been in a car accident in 1997 and suffered brain damage, and the daughter was named the guardian. She requested the divorce after financial disputes with the mother's husband.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Cook County case opens door to divorce for mentally disabled," Oct. 4, 2012

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