As we have discussed in earlier posts, Illinois is not a “community property” state. Instead of splitting marital property 50/50 in a divorce, the parties — or the court — divide property equitably, taking a number of factors into consideration. It is hard to say if the case we discuss below would be decided any differently in an equitable property division state, but the outcome in the community property jurisdiction was pretty interesting.
When a woman divorced her husband in 1992, he was sitting in a state prison, having been convicted of serial rape and sent there some 10 years earlier. When the divorce was final, she may have thought that she had received all of the marital property she was ever likely to receive. After her ex-husband had served a total of 24 years in prison on the rape conviction, however, he was exonerated and cleared of all charges.
As a result, under that state’s laws, he was entitled to an award of more than $4 million. The award was calculated of the basis of $50,000 for each year of wrongful confinement, an amount set by statute. The ex-wife went back to court and argued that, since she was still married to the man for a portion of the time that he was wrongfully incarcerated, some of the award was community property, and she was entitled to her fair share.
In a recent ruling on the ex-wife’s petition, a judge agreed. The court calculated that $228,919 of the anticipated wrongful conviction award constituted community property, and the wife was entitled to a one-half share, or $114,459.50.
Again, there is no way to know how these facts would have played out in an Illinois courtroom. We do have a law that requires the state to compensate anyone who has been unjustly imprisoned, but our formula is a little different: The total award, covering the entire 24 years of the man’s sentence, would have been just $199,150.
No matter how much the award is, though, one thing is clear: There was more than one victim of his wrongful conviction.
Source: Courthouse News, “Ex-Wife Can Collect on Cleared Rape Conviction,” David Lee, Sept. 10, 2012
Our firm handles property settlement matters like the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit the Libertyville property division page on our website.