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Illinois Man In Divorce Battle over $20 million Settlement Paid for Wrongful Conviction

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Juan Rivera, the man who served 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in 1992 of the killing of 11-year-old Holly Staker, is now in the midst of a divorce from the woman he married while imprisoned. Although Rivera was only a prisoner in jail when he and Melissa Rivera married in 2000 and has worked in sanitation at Northwestern University since his release from prison in 2012, he has recently become the recipient of a $20 million settlement from law enforcement in Lake County, Waukegan, and a number of other municipalities. This amount is intended to compensate Rivera in the amount of $1 million for each year that Rivera spent imprisoned for a conviction based on planted evidence and a wrongfully-coerced confession. The record-setting wrongful conviction settlement was reached in March of this year.

Even though the couple had been married for a number of years before Juan was released from prison, it appears that the marriage between Melissa and Juan has fallen apart since his release. Juan filed for divorce in 2014, citing irreconcilable differences and mental cruelty. The issue now before the Cook County Court is whether the $20 million is, in fact, properly defined as marital property. Melissa’s attorneys argue that, since the settlement occurred after the couple married and prior to a judgment that the marriage is dissolved, the settlement is presumed to be marital property. Juan’s attorneys argue that, since the wrongful conviction occurred long before the marriage, the settlement resulting from that conviction is nonmarital property. Each side has submitted motions advocating for their definition of “marital property,” which Circuit Court Judge Carole Kamin Bellows is slated to address later this summer.

Arriving at a division of assets can be one of the most difficult and contentious aspects of any divorce. Finding a family law attorney that you can rely on to assertively represent your interests, while also avoiding a prolonged court battle, can be a challenge. The attorneys at Lee & Fairman can help you survive a divorce with your interests protected and your sanity intact. For assistance with your family law matters in the Chicagoland area, contact us today at 708-799-4848 for a free consultation.

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