For richer or poorer unless I win the lottery

A recent and rather surprising decision in the Family Courts says that a lottery win is not subject to the principle of sharing on divorce if the winner has not shared it during the course of the marriage – a pretty good reason, one would think, for a divorce in the first place!

The case in question was unusual in that the wife had managed to keep her £500,000 lottery win a secret for some 10 years. Indeed, if she hadn’t bought a house with some of her winnings shortly before the parties separated, then the win would have been totally ring-fenced. As it was, the husband received £85,000 to reflect the short time he spent living in house purchased with the lottery money prior to the marriage breaking down.

So, it seems that clients are best advised to forget their wedding vows when it comes to a lottery win, and stash the cash until the marriage breaks down, at which point they will get to keep their, some may say ill-gotten, gains for themselves.

What is surprising is that the Judge placed emphasis on the fact that the ticket was purchased with the wife’s own money – a concept more usually lost when it comes to determining who should get what upon divorce. Indeed, if it were a matter of simply working out who paid for what during the course of the marriage, most husbands would be skipping away from the divorce courts.

Not all lottery winners have got off so lightly though. In 2010, a husband had to part with £2million of his £56million win when his ex-wife, who left him some 10 years earlier, resurfaced to pursue a claim against his winnings. Unfortunately for him, he was caught by a residual spousal maintenance claim, so the £2million award was more the cost of him achieving a “clean break”, or complete dismissal of all potential matrimonial claims.

In another 2010 case, a husband won £2million on the lottery only months after his divorce. In that case, the winner and his wife had agreed clean break financial settlement agreement terms, so she had no legitimate claim over his winnings. As the story goes, they had parted on amicable terms and the husband said he was minded to share his winnings with his ex-wife anyway because they were friends.

So, in summary, if the winning ticket is purchased from “own” monies during the course of the marriage, then a true litmus test for the relationship must surely follow. If the winnings are shared, as most of us would hope, they will continue to be shared even if the marriage breaks down. If the winnings are not shared, then, as the law stands at present, the winner will get to keep their windfall upon divorce. If the win comes post-divorce, the winner is only safe if they managed to achieve a “clean break” financial settlement with their former spouse.

For advice or more information, contact Sharon Giles.

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