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Divorcing a Spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

Going through a divorce is incredibly difficult, but it can be especially heart-wrenching when one of the spouses has Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even when divorce is what is best, one spouse’s cognitive decline can make the process more complicated and introduces an additional layer of emotional difficulty for both parties. Below we discuss what divorce looks like when one spouse has Alzheimer’s or dementia, what you can expect, and what you should do if you are in this situation.

The Difference Between Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Many people conflate Alzheimer’s and dementia, but they are not the same. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease often marked by memory loss, confusion, difficulty with language and math, coping problems, and even delusion. Dementia is not a specific disease but is a general term that covers a wide range of symptoms, the most notable of which is overall cognitive decline.

Dementia is a feature of a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy

There are also several different kinds of dementia, including:

  • Mixed dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Vascular dementia

A dementia or related diagnosis is hard on everyone, making serious legal situations more difficult to navigate. Keep reading to learn more about how an Alzheimer’s, dementia, or related diagnosis can impact the divorce process.

Divorce When One Spouse Is Experiencing Cognitive Decline

Generally speaking, when someone divorces a spouse with dementia or Alzheimer’s, they will file a no-fault or irreconcilable divorce. If you are divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or some sort of cognitive decline, it’s important to be aware that your divorce may take longer. Depending on their current diagnosis, the spouse with dementia may need the assistance of a guardian, conservator, or someone with power of attorney to sign on their behalf. Frequently, the person with dementia has named their spouse as guardian or given them power of attorney in the past. However, they cannot serve as such in this case as it represents a conflict of interest. Instead, they will need to petition the courts to appoint a new guardian. The spouse with dementia may also need to hire additional assistance beyond their legal counsel, such as a financial consultant, to help them through the process and ensure their interests are protected.

Recent High-Profile Divorce Case Involving Dementia

In 2020, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne announced that she and her husband, Tom Girardi (83), were divorcing. Aside from the other legal troubles facing the couple, their divorce became notable for the 2021 announcement that Tom Girardi suffered from dementia and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Nathan Lavid, the forensic and clinical psychiatrist who submitted a sworn declaration to the Superior Court of California attesting to Girardi’s condition, dementia was impairing his ability to understand the legal situation and causing him emotional distress and confusion.

As a result of his diagnosis, Girardi’s brother, Robert, was legally appointed as Girardi’s conservator, giving Robert control over Girardi’s person and estate. It has also been reported that Girardi has moved into a senior living facility specializing in memory care. Currently, Jayne and Girardi are estranged but still married. However, should they decide to finalize their divorce, Girardi’s brother will likely have to act on behalf of Girardi when it comes to signing legal documents, especially if his condition continues to decline.

Why You Need Legal Representation

Unfortunately, dementia is something that millions of Americans deal with every year, and many of those people will also go through the process of divorce. In these cases, you and your spouse must have competent and compassionate legal representation. These cases require a sensitive hand from an attorney that is experienced and familiar with handling complicated divorce cases in Tennessee.

If you are divorcing someone with dementia, or you have a loved one with dementia who is going through the divorce process, we can help. At Casey, Simmons & Bryant, PLLC, we focus on providing every client compassionate-yet-strong legal representation that is responsive to their needs and which protects their best interests. Send us a message online to discuss your case.