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Divorce case involves unusual settlement possibility

Divorce cases can involve a wide range of assets that one separating party seeks a share of from the other. Typically, this includes the business, the bank accounts, the house, and the cars. In one recent Cook County, Illinois, case, it includes the financial settlement that the Lake County husband was awarded for having been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years.

The settlement, which was for $20 million, was awarded to Juan Rivera after his conviction for a 1992 murder was overturned. His attorneys argued that prosecutors and police had manipulated and fabricated evidence in their zeal to convict him.

They succeeded, but after 20 years in prison, he was exonerated by DNA evidence and set free in 1992. That allowed him to file a wrongful conviction action against law enforcement authorities and Lake County. He won that time, receiving a reported net of about $11.4 million after taxes and fees are taken out of the $20 million settlement.

Now the woman he married wants a share of that money. The two married in 2000, and Juan Rivera filed for divorce in 2014 citing mental cruelty and irreconcilable differences. The divorce case hasn't been settled yet due to the disagreement over the division of property.

Melissa Rivera's attorneys claim that the millions of dollars from the wrongful conviction settlement are marital property since the settlement was awarded once the marriage had happened. Juan Rivera's attorneys say that because the settlement springs from a wrongful conviction that happened eight years before the marriage, it is not marital property.

The disagreement between the Riveras illustrates for all couples the necessity of establishing before marrying what is and isn't marital property.

Source: Crain's Chicago Business, "Juan Rivera is back in court—for divorce battle," May 28, 2015

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