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Can ex-spouses of exonerated prisoners share in compensation?

Divorce in Florida and elsewhere can range widely in its considerations, with marital dissolution always being a highly individualized and fact-specific matter. Some divorces are all about child custody and support. Others might stress spousal maintenance or other matters.

And then there is asset division, which is a topic that can involve a number of factors and be of highest importance in many divorces.

Seldom is property division more complex than what the facts offer up in a legal matter that has arisen in Texas and is garnering wide media attention across the country. The case is instructive along several fronts, but focuses most specifically on the issue of entitlement to money that is awarded to a prisoner after -- in this case -- he is released from incarceration owing to evidence proving his innocence.

The crime alleged was rape, and the man served 24 years for the offense. His wife stuck by him for 10 of those years, but the imprisonment took an obvious toll on the couple, resulting in divorce.

Following his exoneration, the man was eligible to receive a compensation package under a state law providing for falsely convicted persons. The net worth: approximately $6 million.

His ex-wife claims part of that, saying that the entire family (the couple had a son prior to the man’s imprisonment) suffered from the incident.

His rejoinder: Given that his eligibility to receive state money did not arise until more than 14 years following the couple’s divorce, his former spouse has no legal claim on the money. Nor do any of the other parties that he says have emerged like “rats” to stake a claim on his new estate.

The matter is presently in litigation and expected to move up the ladder to the state’s highest court for a ruling on whether ex-spouses of prisoners can receive compensation.

Case commentators say that a similar case has never before been decided by a court.

Source: New York Times, "A freed man, an ex-wife and a lawsuit," Brandi Grissom, June 15, 2013

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