Texas exoneree Steven Phillips is facing claims from his ex-wife for a portion of the $4 million he received in compensation for years of wrongful imprisonment.

Phillips had been married only briefly to Traci Tucker when he was convicted of rape crimes and sent to prison. Tucker gave birth to their son the year following Phillips’ incarceration. After ten years of marriage, during which Phillips was largely incarcerated, Phillips and Tucker divorced in 1991.  Twenty-five years after his initial incarceration, Phillips was exonerated of all crimes based on DNA evidence.

As a result of losing 25 years of life for crimes that he didn’t commit, the state awarded Phillips approximately $4 million in compensation. Under the Tim Cole Act, which provides money for wrongfully imprisoned persons, Tucker received compensation for child support that had not been paid due to Phillips’ incarceration.

Your Plano divorce attorneys know that a monetary windfall can reignite court battles between ex-spouses. Based on Phillips’ new millionaire status, Tucker is seeking rights to part of the compensation that Phillips received from the state. Tucker’s attorney argues that the compensation for wrongful imprisonment should be considered “lost wages” due to Phillips’ incarceration, and that at least part of those “wages” are community property that, by law, should have been part of Tucker’s divorce settlement. On the other hand, Phillips’ lawyer argues that Tucker already received compensation for unpaid child support and should be entitled to nothing more from Phillips.

As your Plano divorce attorneys can tell you, no laws or court decisions exist to support either party’s argument; this is a case of first impression, with no precedent to guide the court’s decision. The case recently ended in a mistrial due to a juror who researched information about Phillips online during the proceedings. Philips’ attorney predicts that the matter will go to trial again this summer.

A court decision granting Tucker any portion of Phillips’ compensation could have implications for exonerees nationwide in terms of how such compensation is characterized and handled. This case also could set a precedent for other courts in allowing ex-spouses to lay claim to windfalls that their former spouses receive years after the divorce is final.

This case underscores the need to retain an experienced family law attorney in all divorce cases and post-divorce court proceedings. Without competent counsel, you could put your hard-earned property at risk.

Contact your Plano divorce attorneys at Nordhaus Walpole PLLC today for assistance with all of your divorce and family law needs.