New Jersey Supreme Court Addresses Guardianship and Incapacity in the Context of a Divorce

Divorce and separation are commonly predicated upon mental or psychological changes that one of the parties experiences during a marriage. In some instances, one party to a divorce may suffer from mental health problems that could inhibit their ability to participate in the divorce proceedings. While married persons should be entitled to seek divorce from their spouse at any time, a spouse who is suffering from mental illness must be protected throughout the proceedings. To protect a mentally ill spouse during a divorce, a family court may appoint a guardian to make decisions on behalf of the mentally incompetent party. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently addressed an appeal filed by a divorced woman who challenged a family court’s decision to appoint a guardian who negotiated a divorce settlement on her behalf.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties to this divorce were married in 1985. After a long marriage, the plaintiff filed for divorce against his then-wife in 2016. Prior to the divorce, the defendant developed mental health issues, was hospitalized for psychiatric breakdowns several times, and was diagnosed with several serious mental health disorders. As part of the divorce proceedings, a guardian ad-litem was appointed to represent the interests of the defendant and negotiate a settlement on her behalf.

As part of their recommendations to the court, the defendant’s guardian ad-litem recommended that the parties’ adult children assume legal guardianship of the defendant, which was promptly effected. The parties, their counsel, and the guardians eventually reached a settlement agreement, which resulted in the defendant being awarded approximately $900,000 from the plaintiff in exchange for the marital property which he retained. After the divorce was finalized, the defendant was later adjudicated as mentally competent by another psychologist, and she challenged the settlement at the Appellate Division.

The defendant contended that the parties’ children should not have been appointed as her legal guardians or permitted to negotiate a settlement on her behalf, as they were not neutral parties and agreed to an unfair settlement to benefit the plaintiff. The Appellate Division was not convinced by the defendant’s arguments, finding that the settlement agreement was fair and equitable on its face and that the defendant presented no evidence that suggested the parties’ children were biased or negotiated in bad faith. As a result of the appellate ruling, the final divorce judgment will stand.

Obtain Legal Representation to Ensure a Fair Divorce Settlement

Divorcing parties often start out feeling a lot of pain and anger at their spouse, and the thought of agreeing on a settlement can be complex. Divorce trials can be expensive and especially painful, and parties often realize that a fair settlement can be reached through negotiation or mediation. With the help of the experienced New Jersey divorce attorneys at the Law Office of Jeffrey R. Brown, you can be confident that any settlement you agree to is in your best interests. If a settlement isn’t possible, our dedicated attorneys will fight hard for you at trial. Our New Jersey family law attorneys accept clients throughout the state. To schedule a free initial consultation, contact us at 732-613-0066 today.

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