By: David M. Garten, Esq.
ARTICLE: The Ward’s Right To Marry During A Guardianship When The Right To Contract Has Been Removed
Smith v. Smith, 2017 Fla. LEXIS 1759 (Fla. 8/31/17)
The Fourth District Court of Appeal certified the following question to be of great public importance:
WHERE THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO MARRY HAS NOT BEEN REMOVED FROM A WARD UNDER SECTION 744.3215(2)(a), FLORIDA STATUTES, DOES THE STATUTE REQUIRE THE WARD TO OBTAIN APPROVAL FROM THE COURT PRIOR TO EXERCISING THE RIGHT TO MARRY, WITHOUT WHICH APPROVAL THE MARRIAGE IS ABSOLUTELY VOID, OR DOES SUCH FAILURE RENDER THE MARRIAGE VOIDABLE, AS COURT APPROVAL COULD BE CONFERRED AFTER THE MARRIAGE?
FACTS: In 2010, Alan Smith (Alan) was involved in an automobile accident in which he suffered head trauma. According to Alan’s daughter, Alan was no longer competent to handle his financial affairs or care for his property as a result of his diminished mental capacity. In April 2010, Alan was determined to be partially incapacitated. Alan’s right to contract and his right to manage property were removed and delegated to John Cramer, who was appointed to be Alan’s limited guardian of property. However, the court specifically found there was “no incapacity on the part of [Alan] that would warrant a guardian of a person.”
Glenda Martinez Smith (Glenda), met and became engaged to Alan before he was deemed incapacitated. In 2009, the year prior to his accident, Alan executed a Designation of Health Care Surrogate, Living Will Declaration, and a durable power of attorney naming Glenda as his health care surrogate, preneed guardian, and Agent. In December 2011 (8 months after Alan was determined to be partially incapacitated), Glenda and Alan were married. Court approval was not obtained prior to the marriage ceremony. However, Glenda asked Cramer to seek court approval on two separate occasions, but Cramer refused.
Alan’s court-appointed counsel, Lynne Hennessey, filed a petition for annulment in early 2013 based solely on the assertion that the marriage was void because court approval had not been obtained prior to the act of marriage. Glenda then moved to ratify the marriage, and Hennessey moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the court denied Glenda’s motion and granted Hennessey’s motion. Glenda appealed the final judgment of annulment, arguing, in part, that neither the statute nor the order that removed Alan’s right to contract explicitly required prior court approval, and as such, the marriage could be ratified by obtaining approval after the marriage was solemnized.
ANALYSIS: The sole issue before the Court was whether the failure to obtain court approval pursuant to § 744.3215(2)(a) rendered the ward’s marriage “void” or “voidable.” To resolve this issue, the Court first discuss the meaning of the terms “void” and “voidable” as traditionally defined by Florida precedent in the marital context. Then, it looked to the plain language of §744.3215(2)(a) and the legislative history of the Florida Guardianship Laws to ascertain whether the Legislature intended either of these terms to apply to the disputed provision.
CONCLUSION: After a thorough four-page analysis, the Court concluded that a ward’s failure to obtain court approval prior to exercising the right to marry does not render the marriage void or voidable. Instead, pursuant to §744.3215(2)(a), court approval is required before a ward whose right to contract has been removed may enter a valid marriage. Any marriage entered into without court approval is invalid. However, the statute does not prevent the ward or the intended spouse from seeking court approval after marrying in order to ratify the marriage.