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Does my ex wife get money if I win the lottery?

Winning the lottery can be a life-changing event. Suddenly coming into a large sum of money may lead some lottery winners to consider how their relationships could be impacted by their newfound wealth. One common question that arises for divorced lottery winners is whether an ex-spouse has any legal rights to the prize money.

There are a few factors that determine whether an ex-wife is entitled to any portion of lottery winnings. The laws pertaining to marital property and asset division differ in each state. How the lottery winnings are classified, when the ticket was purchased, and the particulars of the divorce decree all come into play. Consulting with a lawyer is the best way for a lottery winner to understand if there are any obligations to share the money with a former spouse.

Does State Law Recognize Lottery Winnings as Marital Property?

In community property states, all assets and earnings that are acquired during the marriage are considered jointly-owned marital property, regardless of whose name is on the account or asset. This means that lottery winnings would likely be considered marital property if the ticket was purchased while the couple was still married and living in a community property state. The nine current community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska has an “opt-in” community property system that spouses can choose to have apply to their marriage.

In equitable distribution states, marital property is divided fairly between spouses after considering all the circumstances. Lottery winnings may be treated as marital property or separate property, depending on factors such as when the ticket was bought and whether marital funds were used to purchase it. The remaining 41 states have equitable distribution systems.

Treatment of Lottery Winnings in Community Property States

In community property states, the default rule is that all assets and earnings acquired during marriage are communal property. This means that lottery winnings are generally considered to be joint marital property if the ticket was purchased while the couple was married. So if one spouse in a community property state buys a winning lottery ticket before filing for divorce, the prize money is likely to be equally divided between the spouses as part of the divorce settlement.

However, if the lottery ticket was purchased by one spouse after separation or the filing of divorce papers, the winnings may be considered separate property belonging only to the spouse who bought the ticket. The timing is important – if marital funds were not used to buy the ticket, and the purchase occurred after the community ended through separation or divorce filing, the winnings are no longer communal and the ex-spouse would have no claim.

Treatment of Lottery Winnings in Equitable Distribution States

In equitable distribution states, marital property is divided equitably (although not always equally) between the spouses. How lottery winnings are classified depends on when and how the ticket was purchased. The following factors are typically considered:

  • Whether marital funds were used to purchase the lottery ticket
  • When the ticket was purchased in relation to the date of separation or divorce filing
  • Which spouse purchased the ticket
  • Whether the winnings were acquired before or after separation or official divorce

Lottery winnings acquired during marriage are generally considered marital property that is subject to division. If marital funds were used to buy the ticket, or it was purchased jointly by both spouses, the prize money would likely be split equitably. The timing of when the ticket was bought is a key factor. For example, if it was purchased shortly before filing for divorce, a judge may rule that the winnings are marital property subject to equitable distribution. However, tickets bought separately by one spouse long after separation may be deemed separate property not subject to division.

Does Who Purchased the Ticket Matter?

Another important factor is which spouse actually purchased the winning lottery ticket. In most cases, lottery winnings are classified according to which spouse bought the ticket.

If one spouse purchased the ticket separately using individual funds after separation, the prize money may be considered separate property fully belonging to that spouse. However, if marital funds were used to buy the ticket, even if only one spouse is named, it can mean the winnings are marital property open to equitable division in divorce.

Gifts and inheritances received separately by one spouse are generally considered individual property not subject to division in divorce. So if the funds to purchase a lottery ticket can be traced to a gift or inheritance, the prize money awarded to the ticket holder may be protected as separate property not owed to the ex-spouse.

Does When the Ticket Was Purchased Matter?

The timing of the lottery ticket purchase in relation to the separation date and filing of divorce papers can be a major factor in determining whether the prize money is deemed marital or individual property.

If a spouse purchases a winning ticket before separation or divorce filing using joint funds, the lottery winnings are very likely to be considered marital property. The prize money would then be divided equitably between the spouses by the divorce court.

However, lottery winnings are more likely to be deemed separate property if the ticket was acquired individually by one spouse using personal funds after separation or initiating divorce. The further apart the ticket purchase is from the date of marital separation or filing, the stronger the argument that the ex-spouse has no claim to the prize money.

Lottery Winning Timeline Scenarios:

  • During marriage: If the ticket was purchased by either spouse during the marriage using marital assets, the lottery winnings are marital property subject to equitable distribution.
  • After separation but before filing: If the ticket was bought by one spouse using personal funds after separation but before filing for divorce, the winnings may be deemed marital property or separate property depending on the specific circumstances.
  • After filing: If the ticket was purchased by one spouse using individual funds after filing for divorce, the lottery winnings are more likely to be considered separate property not subject to division with the ex.

The closer the ticket was purchased to the separation date without the other spouse’s involvement, the stronger the argument it is separate property.

Impact of Divorce Decree Wording

The final divorce decree can also influence whether lottery winnings must be shared. Many divorce settlements include standard language that assets or property acquired separately after the divorce are owned solely by the spouse who obtained them. This clause would typically exclude lottery winnings from the marital estate if the ticket was bought after divorce.

However, the decree terms could also specify that certain assets acquired after divorce are considered joint property. Some divorce settlements essentially extend joint ownership beyond the marriage under certain conditions. This could potentially give an ex-spouse some interest in lottery winnings even if the ticket was purchased after divorce by the other spouse.

Any ambiguity in the divorce decree could require going back to court for resolution if a dispute arises over lottery winnings. Consulting an attorney is recommended to understand the impact of the decree terms on prize money rights.

Getting Legal Advice

Winning a major prize like the lottery can lead to unexpected legal questions, especially for a divorced or divorcing ticket holder. Rules regarding marital property division and asset ownership vary among states and individual situations. Before claiming a lottery prize, it is wise for the winner to meet with legal counsel to clarify whether their ex has any rights to the windfall.

An attorney can analyze factors like:

  • Whether you live in a community property or equitable distribution state
  • The timing of when the lottery ticket was acquired in relation to separation and divorce
  • What assets and funds were used to purchase the ticket
  • Any applicable language in the divorce decree regarding asset division
  • The best approach to protecting the lottery winnings

Addressing these concerns proactively can prevent your ex-spouse from making a claim to your prize down the road. Each situation is unique, so it is important to consult qualified legal counsel. With proper planning, you can ensure that you receive your full lottery winnings even in the event of a divorce.

Options to Protect Lottery Winnings in Divorce

If you are facing a divorce and come into significant lottery winnings, it is important to take steps to protect the prize money. Here are some options to help shield lottery winnings after a marital separation:

File for Divorce First

If you have already separated from your spouse and anticipate filing for divorce, consider initiating the divorce paperwork before purchasing a lottery ticket or claiming prize money. This helps establish that the winnings were received after the marriage effectively ended, strengthening the case that the funds are wholly yours. File first and claim winnings second.

Don’t Use Marital Assets

Be sure to buy any lottery tickets with your own separate funds after physical separation has occurred. Never use joint bank accounts, marital income, or other shared assets to gamble or buy tickets. Keep lottery activities separate using only individual funds to avoid a claim.

Review Asset Division in Your State

Learn whether you live in an equitable distribution state or community property state, since this determines the default asset division rules. Understand factors like timing of acquisition and ownership that classify winnings as separate or marital property. Use this to guide your actions.

Consult an Attorney Before Claiming

Meet with a divorce lawyer and estate planner before officially accepting your lottery prize. They can help you take protective measures, and advise the best timing and process for claiming winnings to avoid jeopardizing your rights.

Place Winnings in a Trust

You may be able to establish a trust and transfer the lottery winnings into it so they are shielded. A lawyer can set this up and arrange to have the prize paid directly into the trust. This keeps the funds separate from marital property.

Get Divorce Decree Terms Explicitly Addressing Lottery Winnings

Have your settlement specify that any lottery prizes acquired separately by either spouse after separation are the sole property of the ticket holder. This prevents disputes down the road.

Taking prudent steps when faced with a lottery win during divorce is crucial. Protect your rights and financial future by getting legal guidance to avoid jointly owning or splitting your prize.

Tax Considerations on Lottery Winnings in a Divorce

In addition to understanding any obligation to share lottery winnings with an ex, tax implications must be considered during a divorce. There are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Lottery winnings are considered taxable income. Federal taxes of up to 37% may apply, in addition to potential state taxes.
  • Single filers face a higher tax rate on lottery winnings than married filers.
  • If required to share winnings with an ex-spouse, taxes may still be impacted depending on filing status.
  • Claiming winnings jointly and splitting thereafter may have different tax implications versus dividing first.
  • An attorney should provide guidance on minimizing taxes, such as through transferring to a trust.

Taxes on lottery winnings claimed during divorce can get complicated. Consultation with both a divorce lawyer and tax professional is highly recommended to reduce tax liability and avoid surprises.


Divorce can lead to complex asset division questions in the event of a substantial lottery prize. The laws on marital property and equitable distribution vary significantly among states and individual situations. Key factors like timing of the ticket purchase, the source of funds, and precise divorce decree terms all play a role in determining whether an ex-spouse has a right to make a claim. Working with legal counsel knowledgeable about both divorce and taxation is crucial for a lottery winner to protect their financial interests to the fullest extent. With proper planning, even a messy divorce won’t necessarily derail the dream of claiming a fortune won solely in your own name.