Wrongful Conviction Settlement to Be Treated as Marital Property

A few weeks ago, a post on this blog talked a little bit about how personal injury settlements and similar awards are typically handled in divorce cases. In most situations, a settlement is considered to be part of the marital estate if the cause for legal action arose during the marriage—even if no money changes hands until after the divorce. Conversely, an award is usually non-marital if the cause of action arose before the marriage regardless of when the injured spouse receives compensation. A recent high-profile case in Illinois, however, blurred the lines between marital and non-marital property in an unusual way, forcing an appellate court to make a definitive ruling.

Man Convicted Then Cleared

In 1992, a man was arrested and eventually convicted of the murder of an 11-year-old girl in Waukegan. His conviction was based largely on a confession the man later claimed was coerced. The man’s conviction was overturned in 2011 thanks to the analysis of DNA evidence at the crime scene, and he left prison in 2012. He subsequently sued several law enforcement agencies, agreeing to a $20 million settlement last year.

Marital Complications

During his 20-year incarceration, the man met a woman and married her. He filed for divorce in 2014—following his release from prison but before the settlement was reached. His soon-to-ex-wife claimed that she was due a portion of the settlement. The trial court handling their divorce determined that the cause of action that led to the settlement began in 1992 when the man was arrested, meaning that subsequent settlement was non-marital property.

The First District Appellate Court of Illinois disagreed, however, and overturned the lower court’s decision. The appeals court noted that the man had no cause of action until his conviction was overturned in 2011—during the marriage. Thus, the First District ruled, the proceeds of the settlement are considered marital property, and the wife is entitled to an equitable portion. The case was sent back to the lower court to divide the marital assets accordingly.

Every Case Is Different

A wrongful conviction settlement will probably not factor into your divorce, but your case is likely to have unique challenges of its own. Whether you own interests in several businesses or were previously injured in an auto accident and are awaiting a settlement, we can help.

To learn more about the property division laws in Illinois and how they may apply to your situation, contact an experienced Orland Park divorce attorney. Call Kezy & Associates at 708-518-8200 for a free consultation today.