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Divorce Case Raises Questions of the Limits in Ohio on a Judge Appointing a Guardian Over an Adult

Credit WOSU

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on whether a judge can appoint a guardian to control the affairs of an adult without giving that person notice and a hearing to contest that appointment. 

The arguments center on a Cuyahoga County womanwho – after 30-plus years of marriage -- was going through a divorce. Though Carol Thomasson had an attorney, a few days before the divorce proceedings began, the family-court judge appointed what’s calleda guardian ad litemto represent her.

Thomasson maintains the judge’s unilateral decision amounted to declaring her incompetent. But Ohio law presumes an adult is competent unless proven otherwise and she says it allows a guardian to be appointed only after a judge issues a notice and holds a hearing.

"If the orders in this case are allowed to stand as precedent, a trial court could appoint a guardian ad litem in any and every divorce case to strip a person of their rights," Thomasson's brief maintains.

Neither of the attorneys on either side of the case, nor her husband, had maintained that she’s mentally incompetent. She also argues the judge’s decision rested on a law meant to protect children, not adults.

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M.L. Schultze
M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.