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Lottery Winner’s Ordeal Demonstrates Importance of Separation Agreements


There are a lot of horror stories when it comes to divorces. Some are exaggerated, some are just lies, and some are certainly true. But it’s very likely that few of the stories come close to what recently happened to a Michigan man in his divorce (at least, not when it comes to property division issues).

Man Has to Split Lottery Winnings

The husband and wife had been separated and living apart for two years. While the divorce case was pending, the man won the lottery. His winnings were about $80 million (although after taxes he took home “only” over $38 million).

But the divorce was not finalized, meaning that the lottery ticket itself was presumed to have been purchased with marital funds, and of course, the winnings were also marital property that could be divided by a court. The wife asked the Court to pay her half of the winnings.

The husband’s attorney argued that although the timing of the purchase of the ticket and the win may have made the winnings marital property, the luck to win the lottery was all the Husbands. Presumably that meant that the shared luck of both parties did not come into play.

In a more reasoned argument, the Husband also stated that dividing assets when parties have been separated for so long was highly unusual. Michigan is like Florida in that there is no legal separation, or proceeding to legally separate. There is just marriage and divorce.

Separation Agreements

Parties can enter into separation agreements, which, like a marital settlement agreement, spell out the rights and obligations of the parties. These agreements are best when there are reasons why a couple must remain married, such as for religious reasons, or in order to keep receiving certain kinds of public benefits.

A separation agreement could help if you won the lottery during your separation. While that is not likely, it is not unusual during a long separation to acquire other assets and property, to have assets increase in value, and for the spouses to generally move on with their life independently.

Because there is no legal separation in Florida, courts don’t enforce or ratify separation agreements. The separation agreement is effectively just a statement of the parties’ intentions put in writing.

But separation agreements can still be considered by a court if you eventually divorce. For example, a separation agreement that declares that property acquired after a certain date (such as, say, a winning lottery ticket) will be each spouse’s individual property, and not marital, can be considered by a court when and if the parties do divorce.

A separation agreement can also set up alimony or child support payments, and establish a visitation and timesharing schedule with minor children. Remember that child support amounts are determined by statute and other than slight deviation, parties can’t agree to waive child support.

Our Tampa divorce attorneys at The Pawlowski//Mastrilli Law Group can help you understand what will happen to your property in your divorce. Call us with any questions you may have about divorce or separation.


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