Recently, I heard about a woman who won a considerable amount of money when she won a local lottery. She and her husband were in the midst of divorce proceedings. The case had been filed four months before she won the money. Immediately, she called her attorney to find out if she would have to reveal the winnings to her soon to be ex and also to ask if he could claim any of her winnings. Unfortunately for her, the answer was yes to both questions. She did have to reveal her stroke of luck at winning the lottery and yes, he was entitled to a share of the winnings even though she bought the ticket and won four months after filing for divorce.
The state of Michigan has found that any money that has been earned or received, any property purchased or possessions bought prior to the final judgment of divorce are considered to be part of the marital property. Even though they were not living together and he had nothing to do with purchasing the ticket, because they were still legally married, the money would be added to the list of assets to be divided during the divorce proceedings. The exceptions to this are inheritances and gifts from people other then the spouse.
Apparently, it isn’t very rare to find this situation in divorces. I decided to do a liittle research and discovered many references to cases throughout the country where one spouse had won money and was attempting to keep it from their partner either during a divorce or they were divorcing in an attempt to keep it from their spouse. The latter was considered fraud and the entire winnings were awarded to the husband due to the Court’s anger at the wife’s attempt to conceal her winnings.
One winner went so far as to claim that the dollar she used to buy the lottery ticket was found on the sidewalk and therefore not part of the marital assets so she argued that she should be able to keep all of it for herself. It was divided 50/50 in the final judgment.
So, I would say the lesson here appears to be don’t buy a lottery ticket or enter a contest until after your divorce is final unless you want to share the proceeds with your soon-to-be ex!
Nothing herein constitutes a legal opinion.