Ex-spouse ordered to hand over half of his lottery winnings
The recent United States of America case of Rich and Mary-Beth Zelasko & Zelasko demonstrates the importance of finalising your property settlement after separation.
Mr. Rich Zelasko was ordered to pay $15 million to his wife who he had been separated for more than two (2) years. This decision may come as a surprise to many however, there has been similar decisions made in Australia in relation to lottery winnings after separation.
It is a common misconception that the Court will determine the parties assets and liabilities as at the date of separation. Instead, regardless of any time gap between separation and the date upon which the property affairs is determined, the Court will look at the value of assets and liabilities as at the current date. This includes any assets acquired after the parties relationship has ended.
In the matter of Farmer & Bramley (2000) FLC 93 - 060, the husband and wife had lived together for a period of twelve (12) years. During the relationship the wife was the primary career for their child, supported the husband whilst he suffered from a heroin addiction and supported him financially whilst he studied. The wife’s endeavors assisted the husband to obtain fulltime gainful employment.
There was no property of any value at the time of separation and the parties financial circumstances during the relationship were at all times modest. Eighteen (18) months after separation but prior to the parties’ divorce, the husband won $5 million in the lottery.
The Family Court awarded the wife $750,000.00 (15% of the $5 million).
In reaching their decision, the Court took into account the wife’s significant financial and non-financial contributions throughout the marriage, the disparity in the parties’ financial circumstances, the wife’s ongoing care of the child and the future needs of the wife.
A similar decision was found in the matter of Bradley & Weber  FamCA 90 where the Court awarded that the wife to receive 20% or $225,000.00 of the $1.27 million lottery winning by the husband six (6) months after separation.
It is important to note that there is no automatic right to lottery winnings received after separation. In the matter of Eufrosin & Eufrosin  FamCA 311, the husband and wife had been married for approximately twenty (20) years. Throughout the relationship the wife regularly purchased lottery tickets. Six (6) months after separation, the wife purchased a lottery ticket which resulted in her winning $6 million in prize money.
The husband argued that he was entitled to a portion of the wife’s lottery winnings as the lottery ticket had been purchased from joint funds.
The Court ultimately ruled against the husband finding that the parties had a system in place were they were both at liberty to make regular withdrawals of funds from their joint account and apply such funds for their own individual purpose. At the time of purchase, the Court further noted that the parties had commenced the process of leading separate lives, which included leading separate financial lives.
Accordingly, the wife retained the $ 6 million lottery win and the husband was ordered to pay her legal costs.
We cannot stress the importance of seeking legal advice post separation about your particular circumstances. If there is one thing to come from the above cases it is they do demonstrate the complexity of the Family Law Courts.
This information is provided as a general guide only and should not be used or relied upon by any person without obtaining legal advice in relation to their own circumstances.