Craziness Can Be Relative

Lyle and Joann Greenway were married on August 19, 1961. They had three sons from the marriage: Nick, Kurt and Lyle Jr (called "Guy"). Lyle ran a successful dental practice to provide for the family; and Joann stayed home.

In 2009, Lyle (now age 75) moved out of the family home and into an assisted living facility. He had medical problems and needed help with his daily activities. He also wanted to move away from Joann. According to Lyle, the marriage had been contentious for the last 30 years, and he just wanted out. So, in May of 2010, Lyle petitioned the court for a legal separation from Joann. Joann, representing herself, filed her response to Lyle's petition late, and appeared to drag her feet during the legal proceedings. She did not want the separation, and felt that Lyle was being manipulated into filing by their son Kurt and Lyle's former CPA Donovan.

Lyle, tired of Joann's foot-dragging, amended his petition to dissolution of marriage (divorce) and asked that a preferred trial date (earlier trial date than the norm) be granted. He based his request on his ill physical health (he'd had had numerous medical conditions and hospitalizations) and Joann's foot-dragging. He also believed, because of his medical conditions, he didn't have long to live, and wanted this matter to be settled quickly.

Joann, now represented by an attorney, argued against an early trial because time was needed to go through all the couple's assets and debts (the estate was valued at several million dollars), and because Lyle was not mentally competent to decide whether to end his marriage. Therefore, he should be medically/psychologically evaluated.

At trial, the judge heard from Lyle and Joann, their children, CPA Donovan, four separate medical/psychological evaluators, and the elder law attorney who helped Lyle set up his power of attorney/trust documents to his son Kurt and CPA Donovan if Lyle became incapacitated. The four medical evaluators all agreed that Lyle suffered from dementia, but that he was capable of making reasoned decisions. The elder law attorney also stated that she would not have provided Lyle with his power of attorney/trust documents, if she thought he did not have the mental capacity to sign the them. The judge determined that, although he might suffer from some forms of dementia, Lyle possessed the necessary mental capacity to determine whether he wished to end his marriage. The judge used the same standard of mental capacity necessary to enter into a marriage to determine the amount of mental capacity needed to end it.

Joann appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court, and decided that the amount of mental capacity needed for ending a marriage was the same as that necessary for entering a marriage, that is the lowest level of comprehension. One does not have to be fully competent to enter a marriage, unlike entering a contract, for instance, where one has to understand all facets of the document for it to be valid.

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