Illinois Court Opens Door to Divorce for Mentally Disabled
By Brian Mackey
The Illinois Supreme Court has ended a state ban on divorce for people who are mentally disabled and need guardians. The court ruled today that such divorces should be looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine what's in the disabled person's best interests.
After a serious car accident left Marcia Karbin totally disabled, her husband Jan continued to care for her for seven years. But his own Parkinson's disease led Marcia to live with her daughter in Ohio. The daughter became Marcia's legal guardian.
Three years later, Jan and Marcia, through her daughter, both filed for divorce. But the case became contentious. Jan withdrew his petition for divorce, so a lower court judge had no choice but to dismiss Marcia's petition, too.
That ruling was based on a 1986 Supreme Court decision that says only a person in a marriage can ask for a divorce -- not a guardian.
Back in March, Marcia's lawyer, Leslie Rosen, told the Supreme Court that marriage was just another form of legal contract.
"And this is a legal contract that I think the guardian, under the best interests of the disabled person, should be able to dissolve," Rosen said.
The Supreme Court agreed, noting that its older decision was based on an outdated legal view that the sanctity of marriage made courts reluctant to intervene -- especially for spouses who could not speak for themselves.