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Divorce, Dementia and Drama in Florida
Divorce, Dementia and Drama in Florida

The divorce case of Zelman vs. Zelman is currently pending before the Palm Beach County Circuit Court. What makes this case unique is that Martin Zelman, 87, the petitioner seeking the divorce, has dementia. He can’t remember a wider variety of things, but he is allegedly positive that he wants to divorce his wife, whom he married in 2000 after seven years of dating.

In addition to Martin’s dementia making his intent unclear is the approximately $10 million that is at issue in the case. Lois Zelman, 80, is contesting the divorce because she believes Martin’s adult children are using it as a means to manipulate the prenuptial agreement. Florida has a little-known divorce law that imposes a three-year waiting period in divorce cases where one spouse has been declared mentally incapacitated.

Judge Charles Burton is presiding over the Zelman divorce case. It is clear that Martin’s three adult children would recover an estimated $10 million from Martin’s $50 million estate if they can get the divorce granted before Martin dies.

Both sides are claiming they are acting to protect Martin and each alleges the other is only after the money. The issue is whether greed or love is the motivating factor for either side. Martin’s children allege that Lois was not providing proper care to Martin. The court appointed a guardian to care for Martin.

The children initially requested that Martin be declared totally incompetent, but later amended the petition to allow their father to retain some rights, including the right to file or defend lawsuits. Lois believes this exception was carved out solely for the purpose of attacking the prenuptial agreement. If Martin did not retain the right to sue, he couldn’t obtain a divorce. According to the terms of the prenuptial agreement, Martin had to file for the divorce himself (not a guardian filing it on Martin’s behalf).

If Martin cannot obtain a divorce, under the prenuptial agreement Lois would be entitled to continue living in the couple’s various homes and take advantage of all of their assets, including the $10 million. If the divorce is granted, however, Lois gets nothing.

Judge Burton will be listening to testimony and considering the evidence in this case in June. The first question that must be answered is whether Martin truly understands what he is doing and that he actually wants to divorce Lois. If Martin is held to be an incompetent witness, he cannot get the divorce.

We will continue to monitor the Zelman divorce. If you are facing divorce or you have other family law needs, our legal team is here to help. Contact the Men’s Divorce Law Firm to schedule a consultation with a caring professional, and aggressive advocate for men’s rights in divorce, child timesharing (custody), and paternity matters.