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Lawsuit award complicates property division for divorcing couple

Generally speaking, the designation of marital property is clear in Pennsylvania and most other states. Property or money is considered communal if it was acquired while the couple was married, and property division is equitable for those assets. Of course, as with many facets of divorce, this precept is not always easy to apply. In fact, the interpretation of this rule may be as varied as the couples involved.

Currently, a couple is asking the Supreme Court of their state to decide on the status of a sum of money the husband received as a settlement for his wrongful imprisonment. The two met while he was in jail and were married 10 years before his release. The man had served 20 years for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old child when new evidence exonerated him. His lawsuit for wrongful conviction won him a $20 million settlement. Two years after his release, the couple divorced.

Because of the 10 years of devotion she showed him while he served time, the woman believes she is entitled to half of the settlement. She visited and corresponded with him regularly while he was incarcerated. She also says she played a role in persuading people to advocate for a second look at her husband's case, leading to his conviction being overturned.

An appeals court recently agreed with her, saying the settlement money should be included in marital property division. However, the ex-husband is appealing to the state Supreme Court, insisting that the settlement money should be removed from the table during divorce proceedings. Pennsylvania couples with complicated assets rely on their attorneys to defend their rights during a divorce. Having a lawyer who understands the complexities of divorce means one's rights and interests will be protected.

Source: Chicago Sun Times, "Couple fights over millions he won for wrongful imprisonment", Mitch Dudek, Oct. 9, 2016

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