Can your ex-spouse make a claim on your lottery winnings after separation?

It sounds like a nightmare: you finally separate from your spouse, but before the divorce is finalised you win the lottery and your ex claims they are entitled to a share of the winnings!

In 2014 the Family Court of Australia considered such a case. The husband commenced proceedings against his former wife who had received lottery winnings of AUD$6 million after they separated, arguing he was entitled to receive a portion of the winnings because the lottery ticket was purchased with “joint funds”.

Thankfully for the wife, the Judge in the first instance and then the appeal Court both ruled in the wife’s favour and found that the husband had only a small entitlement to the lottery winnings. The Court said that since the parties had ended their marriage by separating (albeit not divorced) and he could not prove joint funds were used to purchase the winning ticket, the husband had no case. However, the outcome may have been very different if the lottery winnings were received whilst the parties were together.

Although this is a complex topic, the principals that the Court applied to come to this determination are simple: in most cases “contribution” is the single most important factor in deciding who gets what.

When working out a division of assets, the Court will always look at what each spouse did to acquire and maintain the assets of the marriage, including caring for children etc. Australian Courts will not usually arbitrarily come up with a number for one particular spouse’s entitlement to the matrimonial assets.

But do not think for a second that all “windfalls” received after separating are immune from the clutches of your former spouse. In another decision, a husband received a AUD$3million inheritance soon after he separated from his wife. As it turned out, because the wife was the main breadwinner during the marriage (earning the lion’s share of income and looking after the children) and the husband was less successful in his endeavours, the Court decided the wife should get nearly half of everything!

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