A recent divorce case in Florida has caught the attention of multiple media outlets for reasons outside the realm of the usual. What seems like a standard divorce case involving two parties and their intent to separate has quickly presented itself to be of greater intrigue to legal minds across the state. In the case of Zelman vs. Zelman, we find an elderly man, Martin Zelman, intent on divorcing his wife. No scandals, no affairs, no abusive or concerning scenarios; simply a desire to divorce. The complexity of this case doesn’t fall under the umbrella of who is right and who is wrong, but rather under the umbrella of what is usually a non-factor: Martin Zelman has dementia.
He has no knowledge of the current sitting United States President, nor does he recollect simply facts like the date of Valentine’s Day (February 14 th) or the current calendar year, yet he is sure of one thing: his intent to divorce his wife. What makes this case complex is the central question of whether or not Martin Zelman is mentally fit or aware enough to demand a divorce. To make matters worse, a tidy sum of $10 million is at stake between Zelman’s wife (who has not shared in a desire to divorce) and Zelman’s adult children from his first marriage.
His wife claims that the marriage is fine and the love genuine, and that Martin Zelman’s desire for a divorce is mostly the result of his condition. His children approach from the opposite side, claiming that Zelman’s current wife is neglectful of his condition, a poor caregiver, and wishes to remain married only for the money. Both parties seem to have a strong case, however that may not be enough; Florida, a state known for its unique take on family law precedent and divorce cases, maintains a statute that expresses someone in Zelman’s position (mentally unfit, allegedly) cannot divorce until three years have elapsed, perhaps for the condition to be, for lack of a better phrase, confirmed.
From Palm Beach County Circuit Court to courts around the state, legal minds are taken for a spin this time. Usually, the court sees a petitioner as the healthy one that wishes to divorce from the spouse that is mentally unfit for a multitude of personal and financial reasons, but seldom is the petitioner the spouse that is mentally unfit. If truly mentally ill to the extent he is believed to be, the question then becomes whether or not Zelman has been manipulated with a large sum of money at stake, who is responsible for manipulating him, and whether or not he is even fit to testify in the matter.