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Mental Incapacity in Divorce Case

Section 3308 of the Divorce Code provides for an action in divorce where the defendant is suffering from a mental disorder. In practice, however, seeking a divorce where one of the parties is mentally incapacitated can raise unique issues. The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure discuss the steps that must be taken when one of the parties is incapacitated. An incapacitated person is defined as an "adult whose ability to receive and evaluate information effectively and communicate decisions in any way is impaired to such a significant extent that the person is partially or totally unable to manage financial resources or to meet the essential requirements for physical health and safety." Pa. R.C.P. 2051. If a person is determined to be incapacitated a guardian ad litem must be appointed to act on that party's behalf.

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If a party becomes incapacitated after a matter has commenced, the matter should be stayed pending appointment of a guardian. The court shall appoint a guardian if it ascertains that the Plaintiff is incapacitated. If a Defendant becomes incapacitated during the proceeding, the Plaintiff should petition for appointment of a guardian. Once a guardian is in place, the matter can proceed. The guardian is tasked with acting for the benefit of the incapacitated party as a fiduciary. A guardian can be replaced by motion of the other party or by the court.

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