Your lucky lottery numbers might not seem so lucky if you discover you have to give away half, or any amount, to your ex-wife. But whether she has custody of your child or not, you typically won't have to share any portion of it with her as long as you didn’t purchase the ticket when you were married, using joint or community funds. The custody situation of your child isn’t relevant as long as you’re not behind on any child support.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
While your ex-wife isn't entitled to your lottery winnings, you may use those winnings to pay her child support for the child you share together.
Timing of the Purchase
If you live in a community property state and purchased the winning lottery ticket while you were still married, you likely have to give your divorced wife half of the winnings. If you purchased the ticket with funds that were given to you or that you inherited, then you can keep everything you’ve won -- even if you were still married when you bought it. The only time this wouldn’t apply is if the winnings were specifically set aside as your sole property as part of the divorce agreement.
Determining Community Property
At time of publication, nine states are known as “community property states” because of their laws stating that everything acquired during a marriage -- from debts to homes -- is shared equally between husband and wife. It doesn’t matter if your wife stayed at home and raised the children rather than having her own career; at the time of the divorce, she shares both the assets and the obligations. This includes lottery winnings. What it doesn’t include, however, is anything you owned before the marriage or any gift or inheritance directed solely to you. Also, if you purchased the lottery ticket after you two separated with the intent of divorcing, it would be more difficult for her to prove she should have any share of your winnings.
Other State Laws
If you don’t live in a community property state, your state laws may still dictate whether you have to give your wife a portion of your lottery winnings if the ticket was purchased during the marriage. In some states, divorce judges devise a financial division they deem is equitable given the individual circumstances -- for example, considering a spouse’s future earning capacity, who cares for the children and how many years you were married. Using your own funds to purchase the winning ticket may or may not influence the judge’s decision, depending on what other assets exist.
In the Matter of the Child
If you purchased the ticket after you and your wife separated or post-divorce, and there are no extenuating circumstances, the lottery winnings are yours. One extenuating circumstance is unpaid child support. In that scenario, the spouse with custody could take out a court order to ask that the portion due be awarded from your lottery winnings. Some states, such as Arkansas, are now automatically redirecting winnings toward unpaid child support if a winner is in arrears. In that case, though, it wouldn't be an equitable split. The custodial parent would simply receive the back child support the noncustodial parent would eventually have to pay anyway.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.