Dementia & Divorce: Know Your Options
Caring for a dementia patient, especially when that patient is your spouse, can be devastating, stressful, and downright frustrating. Individuals with dementia are not always of sound mind, which can lead to emotional outbursts, uncharacteristic mood swings, memory loss, and other odd behaviors. These outbursts can sometimes cause fights, putting excessive stress on the caregiving spouse or leading the ill spouse to look for a way out of their current situation. Unfortunately, these types of conditions can sometimes cause couples dealing with dementia to consider divorce.
Whether you are a dementia caregiver or someone with a mild case of dementia, if you are considering a divorce, make sure you understand your legal options.
Dealing with Dementia in a Marriage
Dementia is an incurable disease that ultimately causes patients to lose their memory. Caring for someone with any form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is anything but simple. The disease varies in degrees and can come on slowly or may progress rapidly, depending on other aspects of the individual’s physical and mental health. People suffering from dementia often deal with other health issues brought on by age or inadequate care. In other words, they may forget to take their medication, or forget to eat, or forget to turn the stove off, leaving them in serious danger. Dementia patients often require around-the-clock supervision, especially in the later stages of the disease, which can put extreme stress on the caregiver and their families.
Unfortunately, dementia patients may also experience mood swings and uncharacteristic anger, usually directed at those closest to them. The ill spouse could become difficult to live with or they might even become dangerous, in some cases. Patients in the final stages of the disease often do not recognize their own spouses and families.
Divorcing a Spouse with Dementia
Anyone wishing to divorce a spouse who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimers should first consult an experienced divorce attorney about their situation, as this is a complex area of law. It will likely need to be determined whether the afflicted spouse has the capacity, or "sound mind," to consent to a divorce. If not, there will be additional legal steps that must be taken before a divorce can proceed. You will also have to consider how a divorce might affect your spouse’s healthcare and living situation, whether he or she is living in a facility or still lives at home, and speak to your attorney about what financial responsibilities you may face in a divorce in order to maintain your spouse's medical care and standard of living.
Filing for Divorce When You Have Dementia
Some individuals in the beginning stages of dementia may also choose to file for divorce. However, the court may wish to evaluate whether a divorce petitioner with dementia has the capacity to make this decision. Therefore, you should speak with a family law attorney before proceeding to discuss the additional legal issues you may need to address.
Whatever you are going through, make sure you take the time to consider your options and discuss your current situation with an experienced divorce attorney. Whether you were recently diagnosed with dementia or have been acting as your spouse’s caregiver for years, our firm can help you explore your options.
Contact McKinley Irvin at our Oregon office to meet with our divorce lawyers.