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Are lottery winnings marital property?

Today’s scenario: A man who is legally separated from his wife wins the lottery. Does he have to share the winnings with his wife? The marital property law of your state holds the answer.

I’ve done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or not.” — Fran Lebowitz

If you buy a ticket on Friday, you have a better chance of dying by Monday than winning the lottery.” –Anonymous

Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well do ya?” — Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

All life is 6 to 5 against.” – Damon Runyon.

Jackpot or “Share”Pot?

Rich Zelasko of Detroit, Michigan, had been separated from his wife, Mary Beth Zelasko, for two years when he bought a ticket in the Mega Millions Lottery in 2013.

He won more than $30 million. Does he have to share it with his ex-wife? The divorce was final in 2018.

The Michigan appeals court says marriage isn’t over until it’s over. So Mary Beth Zelasko gets $15 million of the jackpot awarded by an arbitrator.

The husband’s attorney argued, “Rich was lucky, but it was his luck, not Mary’s, that produced the lottery proceeds.” But the arbitrator ruled that the ticket was marital property and the court upheld that decision.

A Different Result in California

Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California Lottery.  She field for divorce 11 days later.  However, she did not disclose her winnings.  When it was discovered, the judge gave the entire amount to the husband.

Virginia Marital Property Law

In Virginia, marital property is determined at the date of separation. So Rich would not have had to share his winnings if he lived in Virginia.

Maryland and DC Marital Property Law

In Maryland and DC, marital property is determined on the date of trial and it includes property acquired during the marriage.  Under marital property law there, the judge can still adjust the division of property through a marital award after considering various factors set forth in the statutes.

That’s just what happened when Mr. Alton bought a DC lotto ticket and won over a million dollars while separated but not divorced.  The trial court gave the wife half, but the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed, saying:

Mr. Alston, using his own funds, purchased the ticket and won the Lotto. This event was not dependent in any way on the parties’ joint efforts or shared life, past or present. At the time, the marriage was, for all practical purposes, over.

Alston v. Alston, 331 Md. 496 (1993)

Alimony and Child Support

Lottery winnings are also considered to be income in all three jurisdictions and that can affect alimony and child support.