While it is not at all likely that any one individual will face this particular dilemma, just about every week, one or more people throughout the country beat the odds and strike it rich with a lottery ticket. Not surprisingly, a divorce often quickly follows such a windfall. Usually, the winning party is hoping to keep the majority or entirety of the winnings to him or herself, but marital property division laws are not generally in favor of the inequitable division of the winnings. In general, the fate of the division of winnings has much more to do with when the winning ticket was purchased, not when the winnings were received.
If a lottery ticket was purchased during a marriage prior to separation, the winnings will almost certainly be considered standard marital property and subject to a standard 50/50 split. This is also true in cases where one spouse purchased the ticket with a third party, such as a pool with coworkers. As long as the ticket was purchased prior to the marital separation, the courts will almost certainly rule that the winnings must be split equally between the divorcing parties. In some cases, if the marriage has been particularly short-lived, a court may decide on a slightly weighted division, such as awarding 60 percent to the purchaser of the ticket and 40 percent to the other party.
If a ticket is purchased prior to divorce, but after separation, it is much more in the hands of the individual courts. While the law does recognize these winnings as marital property, it grants the courts enormous leeway to determine who should get how much. In some cases, a court has ruled that even though the ticket was purchased prior to the divorce being finalized, the purchaser was entitled to all of the winnings.
If a winning ticket is purchased after a divorce is finalized, it is not considered marital property. It may, however, be considered income for the purposes of determining child support and alimony.
Winning a lottery is often thought of a life-changing positive experience, but in reality, it can be a windfall that spells the end of a marriage. Those who find themselves in this unlikely scenario will greatly benefit from the guidance of an experienced law professional who can help ensure that their assets are protected at every stage of the divorce process.
Source: divorcesource.com, "Equitable Distribution of Lottery Winnings," accessed Aug. 17, 2016