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Divorcing Couple Fights Over Wrongful Conviction Payment

 Posted on February 03, 2017 in Family Law

Divorces are complicated, but in general lawyers and judges can fall back on previous rulings to issue a fair judgment. However, the situation gets more complex when you enter uncharted territory, like a recent Illinois divorce has. In that case, the couple is arguing over whether or not payment for a wrongful conviction should be considered marital property.

Asset Division in Illinois

Here’s a closer look at the case in question. Juan Rivera was released from prison in 2012 after serving 20 years for a 1992 rape and murder that was later overturned based on DNA evidence. Rivera was granted a $20 million settlement from the city, and he was set to receive about $11.4 million after taxes and attorney fees.

While he was imprisoned, Rivera met a woman named Melissa Sanders in 1998. The pair got married on October 31, 2000, but later divorced in July of 2014, more than two years after Rivera’s release from prison. During the divorce, the argument over whether Rivera’s wrongful conviction settlement should be considered marital property became a point of contention. The case went to trial, and the court ruled that Rivera’s settlement agreement should be considered a non-marital asset, saying that the proceeds resulted from injuries he suffered prior to the marriage.

However, an appeals court sided with Sanders-Rivera. In the second ruling, the appeals court wrote that “if there was no lawsuit, or property, in 1992 and 1993, there are no grounds for finding the lawsuit is nonmarital property. Because the lawsuit accrued in 2011, during the marriage, it is marital property subject to distribution pursuant to the factors set forth in … the Dissolution Act,” Justice Nathaniel R. Howse Jr. penned in the decision.

Rivera appealed the second ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court, but they declined to hear his case this week, meaning the decision of the appeals court will stand.

Splitting Marital Property

Rivera wasn’t pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear his case, but his attorney said he’s handling the news pretty well.

“Compared to what he’s gone through in his life, he’s handling it reasonably well,” said attorney Michael Berger.

Berger added that Rivera is still expected to “receive the vast majority of his settlement,” but the exact amount will now be decided by a divorce court.

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