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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Lottery Winnings

Term Definition Lottery Winnings - a fork (it over) in the road called Easy Street.
Application in Divorce Many states now offer lotteries paying enormous prizes that change the lives of the winners dramatically. Very often divorce is among these changes.

Prizes won by married couples during a marriage are marital property, regardless of which spouse purchased the ticket.

The ownership of winning tickets purchased during a separation depends on the meaning of the DOS in that particular jurisdiction. In jurisdictions where the DOS is the cutoff date for the acquisition of marital property, lottery winnings from a ticket purchased during a separation but before divorce are separate property; in jurisdictions where the marital estate includes property acquired up to the DOD, a winning lottery ticket is marital property even when purchased during separation.

In most jurisdictions, equitable distribution does not necessarily mean equal. In the case of lotteries, however, equitable distribution of lottery winnings means equal, "no matter how large the winnings." And it does not matter which spouse purchased the ticket because the purchase of the ticket is viewed "as a fortuitous event to which the purchaser’s effort bears little relationship."

For obvious reasons, courts have brushed aside inventive arguments that lottery winnings are not marital property when the winning ticket was after the separation but before the jurisdiction’s cutoff for marital property. These include assertions that lottery winnings are akin to a gift or inheritance; that periodic payments are income rather than an asset; that winnings are acquired through luck "rather than marital efforts"; that winnings "will be paid after the divorce in the winner’s sole name"; that payments are nonassignable; the winner is not a designated annuity contact holder; that future payments may have been purchased with nonmarital funds. (The last claim came in connection with a 1990 New York case where the husband asserted that "the winning ticket might have been purchased with a dollar he found in the street the day before while walking the dog.")


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