Pt. 3 Grateful for the Court System
My dad and M. were happily unmarried, or so I thought.
I visited them about a week after their ceremony, and I picked up my dad one day for a doctor visit, and he seemed very happy. So I was surprised when I received a voice message from M.’s son 16 days after their ceremony of commitment which said that M. and my dad were going to go down to the courthouse to get married.
I went to see them that evening. M. tried grilling me to find out who told that they wanted to go to the courthouse. (This was when I knew that she was actively trying to keep this from me.) M. said she became upset when she called the courthouse and was told that a marriage of commitment was not a legal marriage. (It was here that I began to wonder if my dad was the only one in this partnership who had dementia, since we had been very specific that a ceremony of commitment had no legal binding and that was why we agreed to this option. During out meeting with the director where this was discussed, her daughter told M. that she could legally change her name so she and my dad would have the same name, so I don’t know where this disconnect occurred.) I tried to tell M. that even though it wasn’t legal, it was a ceremony before God, but this didn’t seem to matter to her – she wanted to be legally married. I again said that my dad didn’t have the capacity to make this kind of decision due to his dementia. At this point my dad said very loudly, “I DO, TOO!” (It’s hard to be diplomatic and honest in this type of situation. I did the best I could.) I told my dad that he could still do many things, but I did not believe he could make this type of legal decision. And then M. got up in my face and asked, “Has he been declared incompetent?” to which I responded, “Not yet.” M. then told me to leave, and I did.
Just a side note here: When I was both a child and as an adult, my dad frequently misplaced items – this was not a new behavior of his dementia. When we went to clear out his house in Georgia I found three or four different driver licenses for generally the same time-period. When my brother moved our dad to North Carolina, I took all of Dad’s cards and identification into my possession so they would not get lost or stolen. I didn’t know then how this would play out to our advantage in the future.
As I’m sure you know, there is a requirement when applying for a marriage license that the applicants must show identification. While my dad and M. were at the Registrar of Deeds trying to get a license without Dad’s identification, I was at the courthouse filing a petition for guardianship. The guardianship hearing would take place about three weeks later, so I also filed a petition for interim guardianship which took place about three business days later, and I was granted interim guardianship.
Part of the process of attaining guardianship involves the court appointing a guardian ad litem who advocates for the rights and needs of the ward. An attorney was appointed to interview my dad, my sister, and myself, and I believe he also spoke with the director of Dad’s facility.
I thought it would be best if I did not exacerbate the situation by visiting my dad very often during this period. At the end of the month, though, I went to move his belongings still in his old room to the room he was sharing with M. to avoid having to pay for a room he was no longer using. The plan was that he and M. would split the rent on her room.
When I arrived, both he and M. were laying on the bed, and M. was on the phone. After telling her caller, “Oh, she’s here,” she got up and left the room. I went to my dad and asked how he was doing. He said, “Not well.” I asked what was going on, and he said, “Apparently we’re splitting up.” When asked why, he said he didn’t know and he didn’t know what he would do, now. I told him we would pack up what he’d already moved to M.’s room, and he’d go back to his old room. I then went to talk to the director, who knew nothing about what was going on, but Chris was a go-getter, and after talking to M., he arranged for help to move everything back to Dad’s old room during the lunch period. Dad went to eat lunch and we moved it all back. No sooner had this been done than M. was at the door, asking my dad to move back. What a roller-coaster!
Six days later I went to the guardianship hearing. Luckily, my dad did not have to appear – and I was glad he was spared this. No one should have to listen to why they are no longer considered competent. Part of my dad’s dementia included verbal aphasia. When beginning a conversation, Dad could usually get out a short sentence on a good day, but anything further was difficult. There were long pauses as he searched for the word he was looking for, and sometimes the word he chose was not the one he meant. Often, he just gave up and was silent.
Being able to communicate is a big part of being legally competent. The guardian ad litem recommended that I be Dad’s guardian of person, and so the petition was granted. I knew this was ultimately a victory for my dad, but it was sad that this was necessary.
I never directly told my dad that I now was his guardian. I did give letters of administration to the assisted living facility, the Registrar of Deeds, and all the doctor offices, and I occasionally would verify this with him being present, but he never asked me about it, or seemed concerned about it.
My dad and M. got back together, split up, and got back together again. After a couple of incidents, one where M. followed my dad down the hallway during an argument, grabbing his belt, and once when staff saw her yelling at my dad and he was crying, the director and I got together and decided that this just wasn’t healthy for my dad. Even though my dad told me that he didn’t want to live with M. anymore, she changed his mind, and he wanted to stay with her. (I think this was dementia related – he was very biddable.) Chris, the director, again arranged for my dad’s belongings to be moved during lunch, and when Dad and M. returned, most everything had been moved. M. tried to talk to me, but I just moved away with my dad, saying that we would go look at his new room. We sat down, and I reminded him that he wanted to move just a day earlier, and that this relationship was causing a lot of unhappiness, and just wasn’t healthy for either of them. My dad took this in, and after a while said, “I think I understand why you did what you did,” and that seemed to be the end of it. (I really don’t know if perhaps this was again just another example of being easily persuaded with his dementia or if he really understood.) Eventually M. moved away from the facility and though she occasionally contacted me, she did not see or talk to my dad again.
This time I did not sigh in relief – I just waited to see what new adventure was to unfold. I felt like I’d been through the wringer, and I was hoping for a quiet period of easy decisions. And for a few months, that was the case.