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Family Law: Who keeps lottery winnings during a divorce?

When you're in love and getting married, you tend not to think about things like divorce, division of assets and protecting your own interests: it's just not very romantic. But a recent High Court ruling in a divorce settlement may encourage people to think more carefully about keeping their assets separate from their partners.

The case involved a hotel porter who was suing for a share of his ex-wife's £500,000 lottery prize, which she had won more than ten years ago with a ticket bought with her own money and without his knowledge.

At the time, the couple were living in a council house with their two children and they decided to spend her windfall on a new £275,000 family home in London, where they lived together for another three years before their marriage fell apart.

When they went their separate ways, the husband moved out of the house, now thought to be worth £500,000.

Mr Justice Mostyn ruled that since the lottery winnings were not "matrimonial property", the husband was not entitled to an equal share. However, since the money was used to invest in the family home where he had lived, he was entitled to £85,000.

Had the winning lottery ticket been bought as part of a "syndicate" in which both parties were aware of the purchase, the prize money would have been shared equally. Alternatively, if a person was "unilaterally buying tickets from his or her own income", the prize money would be a "receipt by that person alone".

Family lawyers are concerned that this ruling will encourage people to keep their finances and assets separate from their partners in future.

Amanda Melton, of law firm Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, said: "This somewhat bizarre outcome seemingly suggests that individuals should keep any assets acquired from their own endeavour entirely separate and should not use them to benefit their spouse and immediate family.

"It follows recent trends whereby inherited property has been ring-fenced in divorce proceedings where it has not been relied upon during the marriage. One must question whether this is encouraging parties to argue over who is financially responsible for the family whilst they are still happily married."

In a similar case, John Leeman, the ex-husband of recent lottery winner Angela Dawes, is seeking legal advice about making a retrospective divorce settlement claim. His ex-wife, who won £101 million, could potentially have to pay compensation of £1 million if Mr Leeman's claim is successful.

Related links:
Read more on the story (The Telegraph)
Read 'How to protect your assets during a divorce' (FindLaw)
Find local family solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)