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Florida Supreme Court Clarifies Restrictions on Marriage Rights for Persons Under Guardianship

ElderLaw

Establishing a Florida guardianship means restricting a person’s legal rights. Under Florida law, this can include removing a guardianship ward’s right to vote, hold a driver’s license, seek employment, or even marry. And even when these rights are not removed outright, the courts may still impose certain restrictions if they are deemed in the ward’s best interests.

Accident Victim May Seek Retroactive Approval for Marriage

The Florida Supreme Court recently addressed the subject of marriage rights in connection with an adult guardianship. The ward in this case is a man who suffered severe head trauma as the result of a 2010 car accident. Following the accident, the ward’s daughter petitioned a Florida probate court to appoint a guardian for her father, alleging he had dementia and was no longer capable of managing his own affairs.

The court ultimately agreed to the appointment of a professional guardian with limited powers, primarily related to the ward’s ability to enter into contracts and dispose of his property. The court did not appoint a “guardian of the person”–someone to make decisions about the ward’s personal care–but the judge said the ward’s “right to marry” was still subject to court approval.

Before the accident, the ward not only got engaged, but he signed a number of estate planning documents naming his fiancee as his health care surrogate and pre-need guardian. The couple eventually married after the establishment of the limited guardianship. The ward’s court-appointed attorney then moved to annul the marriage on the grounds it was entered into without court approval.

The Florida Supreme Court was ultimately asked to resolve these questions: If a guardianship ward’s “fundamental right to marry has not been removed,” does the law nonetheless require court approval for a marriage–and if so, is the unapproved marriage “absolutely void,” or can the court grant retroactive approval?

The Supreme Court answered as follows: When a court removes a person’s “right to contract” in a guardianship proceeding, as was the case here, then a ward’s “right to marry is contingent on court approval.” That said, the justices noted there is nothing in Florida law that prohibits a ward (or their spouse) from “seeking court approval after marrying in order to ratify the marriage.” This means the ward in this case is free to seek judicial approval for his previously unapproved marriage. However, the probate court is expected to “verify that the ward understands the marriage contract, desires the marriage, and that the relationship is not exploitative.”

Do You Need Help With a Florida Guardianship Matter?

Guardianship cases often involve complex questions of legal interpretation. Not all guardianships are the same, and the precise effect on ward’s legal rights will vary from case to case. This is why it is critical to consult with a Fort Myers estate planning and probate lawyer if you need help establishing a guardianship or litigating a guardianship dispute. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., today at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free consultation.

Source:

Smith v. Smith, Supreme Court of Florida, Aug. 31, 2017.

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