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Wife of exonerated man seeks money under community property law

On May 12, the 5th District Court of Appeals handed down a ruling that said a man exonerated for the crime of rape is not financially liable to his former wife. The three-panel court reversed a lower court's ruling that the man owed his ex-wife a portion of $6 million in compensation owed to him by the state of Texas after DNA evidence proved that he had been wrongfully convicted of a crime back in 2008. The man had been arrested for rape back in 1982 and had served 25 years in prison prior to his exoneration.

The man had been married to his ex-wife for only two years prior to his arrest, and she later divorced him after 10 years behind bars. In 2010, the ex-wife sued the man under the principle of community property during a marriage, claiming that she was owed a portion of his lost wages. A lower court agreed with the ex-wife and in September 2012, the court ordered the man to pay his ex-wife half of the $228,919 for the time she had been married to him while he was wrongfully incarcerated.

However, the 5th District Court of Appeals said the law that paid the man for his lost years, known as the "Tim Cole Act," pays an exoneree $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, regardless of that person's education, work experience or earning potential. The court determined that it cannot be construed as payment for lost wages.

Texas laws regarding community property can be complicated. During many divorces, problems arise around money. Some issues are simple, like which party should get the house. Others, such as the division of assets like individual retirement accounts, 401k plans and other similar financial instruments can be a lot for a person to handle all by themselves during such an emotionally trying period.

Source: The Courthouse News, "Ex-Wife of Exonerated Man Loses Payout Claim" David Lee, May. 14, 2014

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