An Ontario court recently found that a man who married an ex-girlfriend days after being released from a four month hospital stay following a serious head injury had not had the requisite mental capacity needed to enter into a marriage. The girlfriend had essentially kidnapped the man from his home, where his two adult sons had been caring for him following his release from hospital and married him in a secret ceremony.
Hunt was involved in a serious ATV accident in June 2011, falling off while rounding a corner, hitting a tree, and sustaining a catastrophic brain injury. Following the accident, he remained in a coma for 18 days. Hunt remained in the hospital for approximately four months. Prior to his release, his doctors noted that:
- Hunt showed significant impairments in executive functioning, including the ability to make decisions, solve problems and plan, organize and carry out tasks;
- The brain injury affected his ability to recognize that he had cognitive impairments and also made it hard for him to fully understand what was going on around him and to comprehend consequences of events that might jeopardize his personal safety;
- Hunt could not be left along and required supervision for both safety reasons and to remind him to take his medications.
He was ultimately released into the care of his two sons in October 2011 and was permitted to return home.
Three days after leaving the hospital, Hunt went missing. By the time his sons were able to track him down, he had married Worrod. Before the accident, Hunt had been involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with Worrod. They had met online, in 2009. He also acted as her surety on impaired-driving charges. In 2010 they bought a house together, but the relationship quickly deteriorated and within eight months, the couple signed a “property settlement agreement” with Hunt buying out Worrod’s share of the home, becoming the sole owner.
Mental Capacity to Marry
The test for determining whether someone had the requisite mental capacity to marry requires that persons entering into a marriage contract understand the duties and responsibilities which a marriage creates and have the ability to manage themselves and their affairs.
The court noted that there was clear evidence that, prior to his accident, Hunt understood and appreciated what the consequences of marrying Worrod would be, and made the decision not to marry her. The evidence also showed that Hunt did not have the requisite mental capacity to marry Worrod after his accident.
The court pointed to the fact that:
- The consensus from medical experts and witnesses was that Hunt lacked the ability to understand the responsibilities or consequences arising from a marriage and that he lacked the ability to manage his own property and personal affairs due to his injuries;
- The pre-release medical summary prepared by his medical team indicated that Hunt’s brain injury prevented him from recognizing his own cognitive impairments;
- A certificate of incapacity to manage property and personal care had been issued, after which the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee became Hunt’s statutory guardian;
- Hunt’s clinical psychologist had found that Hunt suffered from numerous impairments, including impulse control, difficulties with judgment, impaired reasoning and impaired problem-solving abilities;
- Hunt’s psychiatrist testified that Hunt’s frontal lobe injury and executive functioning impairments made it difficult for him to understand the consequences of his behaviours;
- Hunt’s educational psychiatrist testified that, on the date of his marriage, Hunt was significantly cognitively impaired, unable to make decisions that would affect his life, and continued to need acute rehab;
- Hunt’s speech and language pathologist testified that she expected Hunt to experience limitations in his judgment and reasoning that would affect all aspects of his social and work abilities;
- A psychologist retained by Hunt’s sons as an expert witness testified that Hunt’s injuries made it impossible for him to be critical and that Hunt lacked the capacity to marry when he married Worrod;
- Evidence of several laypeople, including Hunt’s sons and Hunt’s friends supported the opinions of the various medical expert. For instance, a friend who had taken Hunt to Cuba following the accident testified that he had to ensure that Hunt did not wander away from him during the trip or forget to eat.
The court rejected the evidence of Worrod and her relatives, which had suggested that Hunt had exhibited no mental or behavioural impairments on the day of the wedding. The court noted that this was inconsistent with all of the medical evidence presented, as well as evidence of disinterested witnesses such as Hunt’s friends.
The court also noted that the Reverend who performed the wedding ceremony “demonstrated a disturbing lack of due diligence in ascertaining Mr. Hunt’s capacity and agreeing to perform this wedding”.
The court ultimately concluded that Hunt did not possess the mental capacity needed to marry. He did not meet the necessary test because he did not understand the nature of the contract he was entering into, or the responsibilities that the contract created. At the time of the wedding he was unable to manage his own affairs. The marriage was deemed void ab initio.
With more than 25 years of experience guiding husbands and wives through the stress and strain of separation, divorce, support and custody, Jason P. Howie understands your frustrations and fears. Jason has seen all possible permutations when it comes to separation and divorce. Jason is Certified as a Specialist in Family Law by the Law Society of Upper Canada and his experience and success practicing family law has earned him respect and distinction in the legal communities of Windsor and Essex County. For questions that only a family law lawyer can answer, contact Jason P. Howie, Professional Corporation, at 519-800-1039 or contact us online.