Watching a loved one fall for internet financial schemes is disheartening, and it most frequently happens to the elderly. In most cases, we are the children or grandchildren of people that have fallen prey to these schemes, not their spouse.
In Frankfort, Kentucky, one man is seeking a divorce from his wife, but she also happens to be his guardian. Meet 88 year old Elmer Riehle, who has filed for divorce from his wife, Carolyn, because he says their marriage is “irretrievably broken.” While Carolyn doesn’t argue that statement, there’s not much that the couple can do since she has been his guardian for years after he was declared mentally incompetent.
Elmer claims that he is just fine, but Carolyn argues that he doesn’t know what he is doing financially, and that he keeps spending money from their trust on “internet overseas pyramid schemes.” After years of hearing his wife say that he was throwing money away, Elmer decided to file for divorce because he didn’t want Carolyn to have “control over all of my affairs” after his frivolous spending.
Since both of them agree that a divorce is the right thing to do, you would think that it would be an open and shut case that would allow them to split up. That’s not how it works in Kentucky, though, which is one of just 10 states in America where those declared mentally incompetent cannot seek a divorce. In fact, Kentucky hasn’t allowed a divorce of this precedent since World War II.
Elmer suffers from frontal lobe dementia, a condition that he has had for more than three years, and that has deemed him as mentally incompetent by the state. There have been cases like this in Kentucky, but this will be the first time that a divorce case involving a mentally incompetent person will reach the Supreme Court.
Carolyn and her attorney, Michael McKinney, say that Elmer has basically no clue what he’s doing, and his condition has caused the couple to lose thousands of dollars. McKinney added that Elmer would go broke if it weren’t for Carolyn telling him not to spend money, and that his spending will eventually lead to Elmer being “fleeced and drained by his enablers, and left out on the street.”
Elmer and his attorney counter that argument by saying that he isn’t mentally incompetent at all, as he was able to hire a lawyer, fill out the paperwork and drive to court hearings all by himself. Elmer’s attorney says that his client feels “locked up” by Carolyn. She says, though, that he can do whatever he wants as long as he isn’t messing with the couple’s finances.
Elmer is only collecting social security and an annuity at this point, while Carolyn works as a nurse making $50,000 per year. Elmer is adamant that he can take care of himself since his wife is gone for up to 10 hours each day, and has been on multiple vacations by herself without calling Elmer the entire time.
Even if the Supreme Court grants them a divorce, Carolyn would still have the title of Elmer’s guardian, one that she doesn’t want anymore. They are already requesting a new guardian be put in place if the divorce is granted, and are now relying on the highest power of the state to make it happen.