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A court ruling that a spouse’s lottery winnings were not ‘matrimonial property’ so were not subject to the usual rule of equal division between the spouses when the marriage broke up received much publicity recently.
The normal rule on divorce is that matrimonial property (assets built up during the marriage) is to be divided equally on divorce. Non-matrimonial property (normally assets brought into the marriage or inherited by one party during the marriage) is not subject to the equality principle.
Although this case has been seized upon by some commentators to mean that if you win the lotto you can part from your spouse or civil partner and be sure of retaining your winnings, the reality is not so clear-cut.
The case was decided by Mr Justice Mostyn. Neither party was legally represented, neither spoke English and the precedent case law stemmed from Australia. In 1999, the wife and a friend won £1 million in a lottery and this they divided equally. She apparently did not tell her husband about her good fortune, but did use the money to buy them a house. The couple’s marriage appears to have been in difficulty for some years before divorce proceedings were commenced, and they were divorced in 2006.
The court hearing was to determine the financial settlement between them. Both have low-paying jobs and the husband is nearing retirement. On the basis of needs, the judge ordered the wife to pay her ex-husband £85,000. The facts in this case were highly unusual and it may well be that a different conclusion would be reached in different circumstances. For advice on all aspects of family law, contact DFA Law’s family team here.