United States: Divorce And Lottery Winnings: What Are The Chances?

Last Updated: January 14 2016
Article by Andrea T. Dunbar

As people scramble to purchase Powerball tickets for a chance (however small) at the 1.3 billion dollar jackpot, the largest in U.S. history, I couldn't help but think about the practical considerations that come into play when dealing with divorce and lottery winnings, especially for those who are divorcing, or already divorced. Sure, it's nice to fantasize about buying a second (or third, or fourth) home in the most exotic of locales, or giving thousands of dollars to charities and every person you've ever met, but lottery winnings could also affect property division in a divorce, or a child support and/or alimony obligation.

Can my former spouse claim any of my lottery winnings?

This depends on what stage of divorce you're in when you hit it big. If your divorce was finalized prior to you winning the lottery, meaning you entered into a divorce agreement, or a Court issued a divorce judgment, it is unlikely that your former spouse would be able to share in your winnings as a division of property. This is because, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, assets comprising a marital estate are generally determined and valued as of the date of divorce. Lottery winnings would most likely be considered after acquired property, and would not be subject to division by a Court after a divorce has been finalized.

Would my child support or alimony payment be affected by winning the lottery?

If you have a support obligation to your former spouse, or your child's other parent, lottery winnings can be considered part of your income for purposes of calculating child support and/or alimony. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines of August 2013 specifically define income as "lottery or gambling winnings received either in a lump sum or in the form of an annuity."
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208 Section 53(c) defines income for purposes of alimony in the same way as the child support guidelines. As such, if your divorce, or child support matter has been previously finalized, and you win the lottery, you could find yourself facing a modification action seeking an increase in child support and/or alimony.

If my divorce isn't final, can my former spouse claim my lottery winnings?

If you win the lottery during the pendency of a divorce, a Court would most likely consider the lottery winnings as part of the marital estate and divide them as property. There may be an argument to be made to treat the winnings as income for purposes of support, if that argument is more advantageous to your position.

It's important to note that, typically, assets that are divided at the time of the divorce should not also be considered as income for purposes of support. This is what is commonly referred to as a "double dip."

If you win the lottery, get professional help as soon as you can!

Given the complications that lottery winnings can throw into a divorce, and life in general, in the unlikely (though incredibly lucky) event you find yourself having hit the jackpot, it is important to consult a knowledgeable attorney. My mother always said the first two people she would call if she won the lottery would be a trusted lawyer and accountant. She was sure to add that she would be making the phone calls from a beach in Aruba.

Hope this provides a little insight into how lottery winnings are treated in divorce matters, and to steal a line from the Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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