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Wrongful incarceration settlement leads to battle in divorce

Posted on in Property Division


Property that is acquired from the date of the marriage through the date of the separation is considered marital property. While there are a few exceptions to this, they aren't present in every situation. A recent case in Cook County shows just how the interpretation of the law can have an impact on how cases are handled.

The case has to do with a settlement that a man received due to being wrongfully incarcerated. He and a woman dated while he was incarcerated. They got married in October of 2000. Throughout the time they were together, the woman fought to prove his innocence.

He was accused of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Waukegan. Eventually, the woman convinced Northwestern University's Center for Wrongful Convictions to pick up his case. After serving 20 years of his sentence, DNA evidence led to him being set free in 2012.

He was awarded $20 million for his wrongful incarceration. Around $11.4 million of that is what was left after the attorney fees and taxes. When the couple divorced in 2014, the settlement became the subject of a court battle over whether it is marital property or not.

The woman claims she was the man's beacon, a sort of hope that he could hold onto when he got down. She said that means she should be entitled to a portion of the settlement. He says that isn't the case and that the money should be his.

This extreme case of property division was taken before an appellate court where it was decided that the settlement was marital property. An appeal is pending with the Illinois Supreme Court. It is expected that it will return to a Cook County trial judge next year where a determination will be made about whether this settlement should be considered marital property or not.

If you are in the midst of a property division fight, you have to decide how far you are willing to go to make your claim. In some cases, it might be necessary to head to the appellate court like this woman did.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, "Couple fights over millions he won for wrongful imprisonment," Mitch Dudek, Oct. 09, 2016

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