Equitable Distribution of Lottery Winnings
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A recent news story has brought the issue of a divorce court’s division of lottery winnings into the fore. In California, a wife won the lottery. Fearful that she would have to share any of the winnings with her husband, she immediately filed for divorce.
During the divorce proceedings, however, the wife never disclosed that she had a winning lottery ticket. The court consequently divided the parties’ assets without reference to the lottery winnings. After the divorce was final, the wife claimed her winnings. Upon learning of the wife’s windfall, the husband moved to set aside the decree of divorce. The trial court granted the husband’s motion on the basis of the wife’s fraud and thereupon awarded 100% of the winnings to the husband. The wife plans on appealing the decision.
The trial court was probably within its discretion to award the husband 100% of the lottery winnings, based on the wife’s behavior.
See Sands v. Sands, 442 Mich. 30, 497 N.W.2d 493 (1993) (assets dissipated with fraudulent intent should be awarded 100% to the innocent spouse). Had the wife not chosen to fraudulently conceal her lottery winnings, however, the court would have been faced with an even more difficult decision: how to divide the lottery winnings between the husband and the wife.
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