Law Office of Stephen W. Penn and Associates


Dividing California property and assets between divorcing spouses can be a complex matter. This is especially true if one of the spouses comes into a large sum of money after the couple separates but before the divorce is final. A Michigan man found that out to his detriment last week when the state Court of Appeals ruled that his ex-wife should receive half of his lottery winnings, which amount to more than $38 million.

The couple married in 2004, separated in 2009, filed for divorce in 2011 and finalized it last year. At the time that the husband purchased the lottery ticket and won the prize, the couple had separated, and the case was in the midst of arbitration. The arbitrator considered the special situation and ruled that assets acquired during a separation but prior to divorce finalization still qualify as marital property. Therefore, when dividing the rest of the couple's assets, he awarded the man's wife $15 million of the lottery winnings.

The court ruled that the lottery ticket represented a joint investment because the dollar spent to purchase it was marital money. Both the arbitrator and the court were in agreement that if the husband was in the habit of buying lottery tickets, his wife had jointly incurred the losses. Therefore, according to the ruling, she should also share jointly in the winnings.

It may be wise for those involved in a divorce to refrain from buying any lottery tickets until it is final. However, people with complex property division problems, including those related to an unexpected windfall, may find it helpful to contact an attorney.

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  • SCBA | Santa Clara County Bar Association | EST 1917
  • State Bar Of California | California Board Of Legal Specialization | Stephen W. Penn
  • Henry P. Collada Memorial Award 2012