Every divorce situation is unique, as no two couples live under exactly the same circumstances. Many divorces, however, are relatively similar in that the property acquired during the course of the marriage includes assets and debts of a fairly mundane nature. A married couple may have acquired homes, vehicles, and retirement savings, as well as educational loans, credit card debt, and mortgage obligations. In some cases, however, the property division process can be much more complex, as a man in Lake County is now discovering after an Illinois appellate court determined that his $20 million settlement for a wrongful rape and murder conviction is marital property and, therefore, subject to division.
In 1993, the man was found guilty of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old Waukegan girl and was sentenced to life in prison. During his incarceration, he met and married his wife who had taken an interest in his case. In 2011, DNA evidence exonerated the man, and he was released from prison in 2012.
Later in 2012, the man filed a lawsuit against Lake County and a number of other defendants seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. Two years after that, while his lawsuit was pending, he filed for divorce from his wife, which has still not been finalized. In March of 2015, a record-setting $20 million settlement was reached in the lawsuit, leaving the man with an estimated $11.4 million after taxes and attorney fees.
For the purposes of divorce, the settlement raises some very interesting concerns. On one hand, the man actually received the money during the marriage—though after he filed for divorce—which, under Illinois would make the settlement part of the marital estate. On the other hand, the lawsuit settled by the payout was in regard to an arrest and conviction that took place several years before the marriage began, but the suit could not be filed until his conviction was overturned.
In its decision, the appellate court rejected the man’s claim that this case was similar to a personal injury claim filed as the result of a car accident prior to a marriage and decided or settled during the marriage. Instead, the appeals court determined that the cause of action that led to the settlement was not the conviction itself, but the overturned conviction that occurred during the marriage. Therefore, any proceeds from the action should be considered marital property.
Get the Guidance You Need
If you have received a settlement or judgment that you believe should not be part of your marital estate in divorce, contact an experienced Kane County divorce attorney. We will review your case and help you determine the best course of action for protecting your rights. Call 630-377-7770 for a free consultation at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. today.