Does My Wife Get Half of My Lotto Winnings if I Divorce Her?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Does My Wife Get Half of My Lotto Winnings if I Divorce Her?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Depending on when you win the lottery, as well as a number of other factors, your wife may be entitled to half of all your lotto winnings in the event you get a divorce. Any earnings acquired during a marriage are generally considered marital, or community property. In some states, community property is split 50/50 when the couple gets divorced. In other states, it is up to the judge's discretion how much property is given to each spouse.

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Timing is Everything

The day on which you win the lottery and what stage you are in the divorce process are key factors in terms of whether you must share those proceeds with your wife. In some states, the cutoff point for acquiring marital property is the date you separate, especially if you have created a separation agreement. Thus, in these states, if you and your wife are separated—but not yet divorced—and you win the lottery, those earnings are considered separate property and yours alone to keep.

In other states, the cutoff period for marital property is the date you file divorce or the date when your divorce is final. In these states, if you win the lottery while you are separated or merely thinking about getting a divorce, your wife is still entitled to at least some of those earnings.

Community Property vs. Equitable Distribution

If your state laws determine that your wife is entitled to a distribution of your lotto winnings during your divorce, the next issue is whether your state is a community property state or it follows the equitable distribution principle. If you are getting divorced in a community property state, all marital property is divided equally. Each spouse is given 50 percent of the property. Thus, your wife would get 50 percent of your lotto winnings.

On the other hand, if you live in a state that follows the equitable distribution principle (most states), the judge presiding over your divorce case has discretion to distribute marital property in a just and equitable manner. This may mean 50/50, or it may mean 60/40. Because the judge does not have to adhere to an even split, your wife is not automatically entitled to half of your lottery earnings.

Other Considerations

Even if your wife is not entitled to half of your lotto winnings, the windfall can impact other aspects of a divorce like alimony and child support. A court will almost certainly take into account that money when determining how much spousal support to award. Similarly, child support payments may be higher than they would be had you not won the lottery.

There are many factors to look at when determining whether your wife is entitled to half of your lotto winnings in a divorce. It depends on state law, when you win the lottery, and where you are in the divorce process. Because this can be a complex issue, it's recommended to enlist the help of a professional who can help navigate your state's legal and regulatory framework.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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