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If you win the lottery, your ex might hit the jackpot, too

The fight over the sharing of lottery winnings has not been without its controversy.

For many family law lawyers, a cocktail party can become a hotbed for questions rooted in “what if” and “I’m asking for a friend.” For the curious party-goer, the topics inevitably focus on the sensational: infidelity, hiding assets and enormous support obligations. At a recent gathering, I was asked about a June 2019 court decision coming out of Michigan in which the husband was ordered to pay his former wife US$15 million of his approximately US$38 million lottery winnings.

In the Michigan case, the parties were married in October 2004 and the wife filed for divorce in September 2011. The parties remitted the resolution of the issues arising from their separation to a private and binding arbitration process. In July 2013, prior to the granting of a divorce, the husband won a US$80 million Mega Millions jackpot. After taxes and deductions, the husband walked away with approximately $38 million — until his former wife asked for a share of the winnings.

The arbitration became a protracted process that lasted approximately three years, during which the arbitrator issued several awards. Of significance, the arbitrator noted the winning lottery ticket was likely not the first ticket the husband purchased during the marriage. According to the arbitrator, since “losses throughout the marriage were incurred jointly, so should winnings be shared jointly.” On that basis, the husband was required to pay the wife US$15 million.