Competency and Marriage in PA

Our Pittsburgh family lawyers are always talking about new developments in marriage law nationally, because of the impact they might have on our clients here at home. Recently, the Huffington Post covered a story about Hava Samuels and her new husband Paul Forziano. They recently were married at a ceremony full of friends and family. Hava said that she fell for Paul because of his hilarious knock-knock jokes, while Paul loved Hava’s beauty and generosity.

Paul and Hava are also both substantially mentally disabled, with IQ’s in the range of the 40’s-50’s. An IQ under 70 qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits. Both Paul and Hava live in group homes, where people with mental disabilities can be supported and receive enrichment and assistance with basic life skills. They met at a Performing Arts program, and they still spend their days there, but at night they are not able to live together as a family unit in the same home. Both homes refused to allow them to live together, saying that they do not have the facilities, and they are under no legal obligation to provide it. The lawyer for the couple, Martin Coleman, stated that the basis for their refusal is an argument that severely mentally retarded people are not competent to be married.

Paul and Hava sued, alleging that their fundamental right to live together as man and wife was violated. The lawyer for the couple, Martin Coleman, stated that the basis for the homes’ refusals to allow them to live together is an argument that severely mentally retarded people are not competent to be married. This case brings up the question of what the required level of competency is to be married, which surprisingly or not has not been extensively litigated in Pennsylvania. They also allege a possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating that the Group Care homes, as non-profits, are legally required to make reasonable modifications to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.

It is undisputed that one of the basic rights of marriage is the ability to live with your spouse. The question then becomes at what stage you are no longer legally able to exercise those rights. There are no available statistics regarding the number of mentally disabled people who are married, because states do not ask on the marriage certificate about mental competency. In Pennsylvania, mental capacity (which has not been definitively defined) is required for a marriage to be valid. In the case that one of the parties did not have the required mental capacity at the time of marriage, then the marriage is void and can be annulled.

The outcome of this case could have far-reaching effects on the rights of the mentally disabled to marry. This question has not been heavily litigated, so it could influence decisions in other states. Contact our Allegheny County Family Lawyers today to discuss your unique family law situation.

Source: Huffington Post

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