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Appeals ruling categorizes civil settlement as joint property

Could money from a civil suit be considered joint marital property during divorce? That is what one appeals court is currently considering after an inmate received a massive settlement for wrongful incarceration. The man, who had been imprisoned for 20 years on a rape and murder charge, received a $20 million settlement for his wrongful conviction. Now, his wife wants a piece of the pie in their divorce proceedings.

Reports show that the man married his wife while he was incarcerated -- he was serving a life sentence. He filed for divorce about two years after his release from prison, and the matter has been contested ever since. The big question: Is that $20 million settlement considered "marital property" that could be divided between the man and his wife? Or is he entitled to keep the entirety of the civil settlement?

A trial court initially agreed that the settlement was not considered marital property, but the appeals court ruled otherwise. That judicial body determined that the settlement was joint property because it was received during the couple's marriage. The man had appealed to his state supreme court, but those judges declined to hear the case. It seems that he will be sharing his lawsuit earnings with his soon-to-be ex-wife.

Although this type of case is almost certainly rare in Florida, the fact is that your smaller civil settlements could be fair game for your ex-spouse in the divorce process. Figuring out whether a specific asset is considered joint property may seem easy, but many of these holdings are difficult to categorize. Those who have questions about the nature of their marital property and asset division may benefit from the support of an experienced attorney who can help them fight for their legal rights.

Source: Lake County News-Sun, "$20 million wrongful conviction settlement headed for divorce court," Luke Hammill, Jan. 27, 2017

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