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New Case Law, Spouses have no right to lottery winnings, Kirsten Grotte discusses

New case law has recently emerged, which may make family law solicitor’s change their advice to divorcing couples.

Previously, it may have been advised that there would be a good chance of benefiting from half of a spouse’s lottery winnings, purely and simply for the fact that you were married, it was probably a joint venture at the time but most importantly the money had accrued during the course of the marriage.

I have even used the example on countless times with new client’s that if you do not get a legally binding consent order to record the overall financial settlement at the end of the divorce, which includes a clean break clause to dismiss all future claims, then financial claims remain live and there is a risk that your ex-spouse could be entitled to your winnings if you were to win the lottery. This is because financial claims remain live even after you are divorced if you do not have a consent order.

The high court however has made the landmark ruling that if a spouse secretly picks the winning numbers on the lottery, pays for the ticket and subsequently wins, the winnings will not be considered as joint matrimonial property unless it is invested as a shared asset, for example a matrimonial home. If the latter is the case then the other spouse may be awarded a percentage of the winnings, which is considered to be fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

This is clearly a warning for all those desperately trying to secretly pick the winning lottery numbers and want to leave their marriage on a private yacht to the Caribbean islands, that as long as you keep the money, whether it be in a bank account or taped to the lid of your toilet cistern, it will not be considered as “matrimonial property”. Therefore there should be the assumption that the other spouse should be awarded 50% of the winnings.

No doubt this ruling will raise eyebrows and make individuals think twice about their chosen investments and potentially keeping them separate from their spouse in the event their marriage breaks down. Surely if more couples start to keep their finances and investments separate, with rulings such as this, albeit this case wont appear every day, it could be suggested that the courts are leaning more towards the same law for cohabiting couples. Much more straight forward, if the asset is in joint names then it’s joint, if it is in your sole name then it’s yours!

Clearly it is all down to interpretation and unfortunately in this country not every Judge is a clone of the other and like every other human, they all have different opinions. If I was ever caught in this position (when pigs fly) and going through a divorce, then I definitely know which Judge I would want my case heard by!

Cue…floodgates opening………