If your recent lottery win has an ex-spouse knocking down your door, you may want to know what the law has to say about whether you'll have to share it with her. After all, the "ex" being operative, you were no longer married when you purchased the ticket, so you figure your ex-wife shouldn't be involved. While it would be nice to keep all the money to yourself, complex relationships and extenuating circumstances sometimes lead to unexpected award distributions.
As divorce education website Divorce Source notes, whether a long-lost ex-wife is able to collect support from a lottery winner depends on when in the breakup the lottery was won. Some cases are more clear-cut than others. If you got the lottery ticket after your divorce, the money is called "nonmarital," meaning it is separate and not subject to halfsies. Nonetheless, the winnings may still be fair game for alimony and child support. If you bought the ticket after separation but before divorce, some states designate separation as the cutoff point for allowable spousal money grabs.
States are divided into community property and equitable distribution states, which affects how they determine the division of property. In community property states, such as California, Arizona, Louisiana and Texas, assets from a marriage are subject to a 50/50 split. Equitable distribution states factor in aspects such as child custody, income of the spouses and length of the marriage in dividing the loot. Divorce Source notes that assets obtained after separation don't always get the automatic 50/50 treatment, and courts have awarded post-separation spouses in a variety of ways. In general, the closer you are to divorce, the more likely the split will not be equal.
Community or Marital Property
In community property states, community property refers to the assets obtained during a marriage that are subject to equal distribution between the spouses; the term is "marital property" in equitable distribution states. Essentially, this classification draws the line between what may be up for grabs during a dispute between feuding ex-spouses over lottery winnings and what lies outside an ex-spouse's bounds to claim. If a court determines the winnings to be nonmarital property, the ex-wife couldn't claim part of those funds on those grounds, but she might be able to pursue a claim for another reason, such as child support.
In Florida, which is an equitable distribution state, Alan Burton law firm discusses several circumstances that could sway a court into making a more lopsided distribution of otherwise up-for-grabs prize monies. If a spouse intentionally depleted marital assets before the divorce, or if one spouse contributed greatly to the other's career, these could tip the scales. In this case, if you bought a winning lottery ticket after separation, and your ex-wife had frittered away your marital property in the years before your divorce, you might just end up with all the loot and she might have no claim to your winnings.
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