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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Who buys the Lottery ticket in your house?

I think the generally accepted wisdom, which of course is the favourite kind and has no basis whatsoever in law, is that if an individual buys a Lottery ticket and their numbers come up, their other half is entitled to half. I guess that should read that they would share their winnings but if they split up, it would be divided between them. Well, a ruling last week suggested that is not always the case – and it could send shockwaves through households across the country as long-held ticket buying protocols are revised (just in case). The advertising tagline should be revised to “It could be you – and only you.”

A High Court judge has ruled that if your spouse picks the winning numbers, you are legally entitled to a share of the winnings only if the money is invested in a shared asset, such as a family home. Money which goes straight into the bank cannot be touched.

Division of assets on divorce can be a minefield – very tricky to negotiate, complicated and difficult to achieve a positive outcome. However, I am sure most people would have thought that a Lottery win for a couple would be among the easier things to sort out. Not so it seems.

The landmark ruling, thought to be the first on Lottery winnings, revolved around a hotel porter who sued his former wife for a share of her £500,000 National Lottery winnings. The man, who cannot be named, was granted a partial victory by Mr Justice Mostyn but the judge said he should not be given an equal share because lottery winnings were not "matrimonial property". The couple were living in a council house when the woman bought the winning ticket with her own money and without her husband's knowledge more than 10 years ago.

The ruling, announced following a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court, has met with some consternation – and rightly so. After all, it appears to send the message that couples should keep their assets separate. Also, bank accounts are usually treated as joint assets if a couple are divorcing, are they not?

I am not sure if this is the end of the saga but I will watch it with interest as it seems to fly in the face of common sense and the legal responsibilities and ramifications that come from a couple being married. I will also be revising the Woolley household rules on Lottery ticket purchases to ensure a transparency and openness – just in case.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor


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