Marriage is usually for life, with two people exchanging vows and promising to live their days out together. But what happens if one of those people ends up suffering from dementia and the other chooses to begin a relationship with another partner?
It is by no means an easy situation and one that can often trigger a whole assortment of legal issues if divorce isn’t an option, not to mention the impact on family dynamics.
Although it may sound strange to those of us who have never found ourselves in a similar position, according to CRH Law lawyer Brian Herd, issues surrounding separation by circumstance and the addition of a second spouse are surprisingly actually quite common.
Apparently, in most situations the person with dementia ends up in a nursing home due to their condition while the so-called ‘single’ spouse finds themselves sliding into a de facto relationship with another lover.
“It is a moral issue as much as a legal issue,” Herd told Starts at 60. “Couples can be quite young, in their mid 70’s, one is unable to carry on and ends up in aged care, while the single spouse finds themselves creating a second spousal relationship, the record is four additional spouses.”
While a second marriage can’t take place, Herd explained the new spouse has the ability to challenge wills and be entrusted powers of attorney, making the situation all that more complicated, especially when someone dies.
“Both of the spouses have the ability to challenge the persons will if they die. This creates problems around financial arrangements, especially if everything is given to the dementia-suffering spouse. Pension entitlements would go down and aged care fees would go up,” he said.
“Then there is the decision surrounding powers of attorney, usually a married couple are each others but, when one has dementia, sometimes it falls into the hands of the second spouse. This may not be accepted by children of the spouse with dementia, creating even further issues.”
Describing it as a “major social issue” which is becoming increasingly common, Herd said he sees many cases involving multiple spouses.
“It happens in the strangest places,” the lawyer explained. “There was one case when one person was in aged care with dementia and the other met someone else whose partner also had dementia, it evolved into a friendship and further and the rest is history.
“I even had a case where a gentleman moved his wife, who had dementia, back home from aged care. He then met another woman who also moved into the house.
“He found it a wonderful idea, he had another life outside his first spouse and was still able to care for his wife with dementia, it satisfied all his needs.”
However, although it may sound like a great idea to some, Herd warned people to be wary of the complications that may arise and consider mediation to ensure everyone in the family is aware of the situation.
“Be careful, while the heart says something, you must understand the implications, understand that creating another relationship while the first spouse has dementia can also put enormous pressure on family dynamics, particularly if the new spouse has children as well,” he explained.
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