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Divorce story: He spent the buck gambling; she’s glad he did

Here’s a tale from a family law perspective that has a simply “wow” component about it. Moreover, it’s broadly instructive nationally, including in the equitable property state of New Jersey.

It starts with a man’s mere $1 outlay on a lottery ticket in Michigan. He wasn’t concerned what his wife might think about that; the couple was separated and in the process of ending their marriage via arbitration.

And then it happened. Miraculously, the man won a Mega Millions lottery. His post-tax take: nearly $39 million.

Or so he thought. Unsurprisingly, his wife made a claim on the earnings, and she has been, well, lucky ever since.

The wife logically enough raised the matter with the divorce arbitrator, who just as logically enough referenced the state’s relevant law guiding divorce-linked property distribution. Michigan’s position on that mirrors the standard operative in a strong majority of states, including New Jersey. Namely, that is the equitable (read fair) distribution of marital assets accumulated during marriage.

The man argued that the couple’s union was in the past and that their divorce was imminent. The arbitrator conceded that, but pointed out the key fact that the man and woman were still married. Consequently, the buck spent was marital property comprising a “joint investment.” As such, the wife must share in the resulting windfall.

The couple’s divorce was finalized last year. Just last week, an appellate court weighing in on the arbitrator’s ruling soundly endorsed it, to wit: the ex-spouse gets to keep $15 million of the riches procured by that single dollar.

Although disagreement surrounding marital property division doesn’t often spotlight huge lottery winnings, of course, it does occur rather routinely in divorces featuring other assets. Questions or concerns regarding what comprises marital property and how assets should be divided in divorce can be directed to a proven family law attorney.

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