Jackpot! The Lottery and Divorce

Last week’s $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot created a frenzy like no other as people rushed out to buy their tickets for a shot at riches, the likes of which most of us can’t even fathom. There is no doubt that the frenzy and constant discussion of the billion dollar jackpot left each and every one of us daydreaming about what we would do if we were to stumble our way into such a large fortune. Of course we would pay off our debts, help out friends and family members, buy some cool new things…but did we consider the other not-so-pleasant effects that a lottery win so substantial might have on our lives? Perhaps after reading this, you won’t feel as bad that you weren’t one of the big winners!

Of course as a divorce attorney, I can’t help but consider the kind of impact such a winning will have on the winners’ personal lives. Although I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to nail down legitimate statistics on the impact of winning the lottery on divorce rates, it is unquestionable that there is an impact. Some say that the chances of a lottery winner divorcing increase as much as 4 times, while others say that although it does affect divorce rates in general, it has only a marginal effect closer to an increase of 3%.

A study of Florida lottery winners showed some interesting results regarding the chances of single people getting married after a lottery win. It turns out that in the three years following a lottery win, woman are 40% less likely to get married than they would be if they did not win. However, the study found no effect on the rate that men got married. This shows that female lottery winners have a reduced incentive to get married; in other words, economic circumstances play a larger role in women’s decision to marry than it does for men.

And, I couldn’t write an article about the lottery and divorce without addressing the most well-known lottery case in California, Marriage of Rossi, even though its already been addressed in our blog titled “My Spouse is Hiding Assets.” In short, the Wife in that case won over a million dollars in the lottery, didn’t tell her Husband, and filed for divorce days later. She managed to conceal the lottery winnings for a while until a letter arrived in the mail that tipped the Husband off to the win. The Husband, of course, went straight to court for his share of the winnings. The judge ruled that the Wife maliciously concealed her winnings from her Husband, and ordered her to turn over the entire winnings to him. If she had disclosed her winnings, they each would have been entitled to ½ under California’s community property laws. This was a tough lesson learned, folks.

So, if we could give one valuable piece of advice to someone who just won the lottery and is now seeking divorce: DISCLOSE! Otherwise, you may end up like poor (sneaky) Ms. Rossi. Broke…alone… and stuck watching your ex-spouse enjoy the money without you.

Before you dive head first into your pool full of cash, think wisely! And although you most likely won’t be hitting the Powerball jackpot any time soon (sorry), if you are considering filing for divorce or legal separation, please contact us. In a way, finding an experienced and competent divorce attorney to fit your needs is a win in itself. Nancy J. Bickford is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and as actively licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA.) Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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