Winning the lottery often entails as much stress as it relieves. Lottery winners quickly learn they face massive tax implications for their windfalls and may wonder how their winnings affect preexisting contracts and agreements like child support and alimony. If you recently won the lottery, an attorney can help you determine if and how your ex would have any claim on your winnings.
Community Versus Separate Property in Divorce
In any property division negotiation, each divorcing spouse must prove his or her ownership over separate or individual property and distinguish it from community or marital property. A divorce judge will typically consider any and all property acquired during a marriage as the community property of that married couple and subject to equitable division in a divorce. With some types of property, establishing ownership type can be difficult, but these determinations largely boil down to timing, whether the couple has children, and each spouse’s past behaviors.
The first and most important factor in these cases is child support; the court has a duty to rule in the best interests of a divorcing couple’s children. If your ex-spouse has majority custody of your kids and you pay child support, you should expect to share some of your lottery winnings with your ex on some level. State law typically determines your options for disbursement. Some states allow a lump sum while others will simply require you to pay more in support each pay period.
It is essential to have proof of the date of purchase of your ticket; most electronically printed lottery tickets for high-value winnings pools include this information on the ticket itself. An attorney can advise you how to obtain proof of date of purchase if necessary.
In the event the date printed on your lottery ticket falls before the date of finalization for your divorce, you should expect those winnings to come into play in your divorce agreement. While this may seem unfair, it is always best to report any major financial changes that occur while divorce proceedings are underway to avoid any potential legal penalties. If your ex discovers you purchased your lottery ticket prior to the divorce finalizing but you waited until after to cash it in, your ex may have a valid claim that you attempted to hide assets.
When Your Ex Has No Claim
If a divorced couple has no children, there is very little reason for the court to order any changes to a spousal support agreement. At the time of divorce, the court will assess whether the lower-earning spouse deserves spousal support or alimony under state law. Once the couple separates, each one should be an adult capable of self-sufficiency, and spousal support or alimony will likely end after a predetermined amount of time anyway.
If your divorce has finalized, you have no children with your ex, and a spousal support agreement is already in place, then your lottery ticket and the resulting winnings would be your separate individual property if you purchased the ticket after your divorce. Since your divorce is complete and an agreement is in place, any property you obtain after the date of finalization is yours and yours alone.
Consult an Attorney
A family law attorney is the best resource for anyone who is uncertain about financial obligations following divorce. Your attorney will help ensure you receive a reasonable settlement and determine your reporting requirements for lottery winnings. An attorney will also help you avoid legal penalties if you must include your winnings in your divorce negotiations and determine the best ways to protect your new windfall.