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Keywords:

  • dementia;
  • abuse;
  • mentally ill;
  • marriage;
  • elderly;
  • capacity

Abstract

Objectives

(i) To raise awareness about the vulnerability of mentally ill older persons to abuse by others seeking to gain by marriage; (ii) to outline key legal cases from common law countries; and (iii) to provide guidelines for health care professionals who encounter this issue in practice.

Method

We present two cases: the first case involved an 87-year-old widower who married his carer––50 years his junior––in a religious ceremony while hypomanic. The second case involved an 82-year-old widow with moderate dementia who married her boarder, the marriage subsequently being found void in the Family Court of Australia on the basis that her consent was not real because she was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony.

Results

Abuse by marriage may be of a psychological, sexual, social or financial nature.

Older people with impaired judgement and inability to appraise others due to mental illness may be persuaded to execute legal documents such as marriage certificates.

Conclusion

Health care professionals may have a role in the identification and management of this kind of abuse. There are legal means to address this problem ranging from guardianship and financial management to family law court applications to seek a decree of nullity/invalidity of the marriage. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.