A Michigan man learned that hard way that it’s best to finalize your divorce before winning a huge lottery jackpot, MSN reports. An arbitrator ruled that he must share the bounty with his ex-wife since the two were married at the time he bought the ticket.
In almost every divorce, the two sides — typically through their attorneys — try to work out an arrangement that distributes marital assets as evenly as possible. Of course, the judge can take into account things such as infidelity, spousal abuse or other unpleasant business when distributing the marital assets, but in most cases the goal is a 50/50 split.
However, in the case of Detroit man, Richard A. Zelasko, there was a pretty big hitch: When the pair separated in 2011, there wasn’t much to split. All that changed in 2013, two years into his estrangement from his wife, when he purchased a Michigan Lottery Mega Millions ticket that wound up winning an $80 million jackpot.
After taxes and fees, his share amounted to just a hair under $39 million, according to CNN.
The problem was, the i’s weren’t dotted and the t’s weren’t crossed on their divorce, which meant that they were still married when he won the jackpot. And his ex-wife Mary believed, as did her attorney, that the winning money became marital property and she was entitled to half of it.
Zelasko’s attorney didn’t see it that way. “Rich was lucky—but it was his luck, not Mary’s, that produced the lottery proceeds,” he argued.
A Michigan lottery winner must share the $38 million windfall with his ex-wife, even though they were in the process of divorcing when he bought the ticket https://t.co/vS7UCdpPre— CNN (@CNN) June 21, 2019
The arbitrator ruled in Mary’s favor on two points. First, the $1 that Richard “invested” in the winning ticket was a joint marital asset, so to speak, so the return on that investment was also a joint marital asset. Second, he or she noted that the dollar Richard spent on that ticket in 2013 undoubtedly wasn’t the first time he bought a lottery ticket while they were still married, and since the “losses throughout the marriage were incurred jointly, so should winnings be shared jointly.”
The arbitrator awarded Mary $15 million.
Richard is likely out of options at this point since arbitration, as opposed to regular court proceedings, is extremely difficult to appeal and even more difficult to overturn. Mary, for her part, declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality.
This is not the first time that a lottery win has come up in a marital dispute. In 2018, Eileen Murray of New Jersey was ordered to pay alimony to her ex-husband. But when her ex won a $165-million lottery jackpot a few months later, she told a court that there was no need for her to keep paying spousal support since her ex was now loaded.