Imagine this scenario: In 2004, your elderly father, Howard, decided to marry for a fourth time. He married a then-22 year old woman named Anna. In 2014, after ten years of marriage, Howard decides he has had enough of Anna’s hard-partying ways and files for divorce. He also thinks she may have married him just for his money. Despite being a billionaire, Howard decides to represent himself in the divorce. While the case is pending, Howard suffers from a debilitating brain aneurism that has affected his ability to speak, communicate, to get out of bed, and needless to say, to act as his own attorney or make decisions on his behalf. You are named as his power of attorney and decide to seek guardianship over him as a “disabled adult” to make decisions on his behalf. As his guardian, are you then able to continue with the divorce proceedings on his behalf? Can you obtain an attorney to represent you as the guardian taking the place of Howard? The answer is, at least ever since 2012, a clear “yes” and here’s why.
Before 2012, Illinois case law was clear that a third-party individual could not file for divorce on behalf of someone else in any circumstance, nor could that party continue divorce litigation for that person. In the 1986 case of Marriage of Drews, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a guardian did not have standing to file a divorce proceeding on behalf of the ward. In Drews, the husband was injured so severely that he was permanently mentally and physically disabled. After the accident, his mother was appointed as guardian of his estate and person. In that capacity, the mother filed for divorce on behalf of the husband. The Court held that absent specific statutory authorization, a guardian cannot institute an action for the dissolution of the ward’s marriage on behalf of the ward. It supported this conclusion by stating that the Probate Act, which did allow a guardian to represent the ward in legal proceedings, limited this ability to matters related only to the estate, rather than the ward’s person.