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Divorce settlement: an $11.4 million question

There are two sides to every story, and somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Unfortunately for New Jersey residents who are caught up in a divorce, that elusive middle ground may be quite a complex area. For the purposes of equitable distribution, trying to figure out where individual property ends and marital property begins can mean a vast difference in the outcome of one's settlement.

A man was convicted of a violent crime in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. He met his wife while serving his time in 1998, and they were married two years later while he remained incarcerated. It wasn't until 2012, after his name was cleared using DNA evidence, that he was released from jail. He went on to sue a number of bodies involved in his wrongful imprisonment and won $20 million in settlement, which left $11.4 million after fees and taxes.

In 2014, two years after his release from prison, he filed for divorce, and thus began the dispute over whether his settlement represented marital property or not. While a trial court agreed with the husband that the settlement was issued in respect of injuries suffered prior to the marriage, the wife won her appeal against the ruling on the basis that the lawsuit happened during their marriage in 2011, making it marital property. The husband took his case to the Illinois Supreme Court, who refused to allow the case to be heard, leaving the decision of the appeals court to stand.

While the wife's team will argue in favor of equal division of the settlement, New Jersey residents will understand that equitable distribution of property is affected by a number of factors. In addition to how the property enters the marriage, the future earning power of each party following divorce may also be considered. Gathering together as much evidence as possible in order to support one's argument can assist in the pursuit of as fair a result as possible.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "$20 million wrongful conviction settlement headed for divorce court", Luke Hammill, Jan. 27, 2017

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