In a move largely applauded by disability rights advocates, the Illinois Supreme Court voted unanimously on Oct. 4 to open the option of divorce to people who require guardians because of mental disabilities.
In the past, the state of Illinois has prohibited the guardians of mentally disabled Illinois residents from being able to petition for a divorce on behalf of the person the guardian cares for. For a mentally disabled person to obtain a divorce, the other spouse had to initiate the process.
The restriction on divorce was meant to only affect people with severe brain damage, such as might be sustained in an accident, but ultimately the law affected people who had the ability to make their wishes known. Such individuals’ mental illness may come and go, or perhaps the person’s condition was Alzheimer’s disease. Mental disability rights advocates say that those conditions in themselves should not automatically bar people’s guardians from filing for divorce on their behalf.
The high court wrote that the ruling was based on the fact that an outright ban on divorce could leave disabled people “at the complete mercy” of spouses who may be abusing them or financially exploiting them for personal gain.
Equip for Equality was one of the groups fighting for the rights of the disabled in divorce court, and the group feels that this recent ruling is a step in the right direction toward fully protecting the rights of the disabled. Under the new rules, the guardian of a disabled person will be able to file for divorce on that person’s behalf, and it will be up to a judge to determine on an individual basis what is in the best interest of the disabled partner.
Source: Telegraph Herald, “Court opens door to divorce for mentally disabled,” Oct. 5, 2012