Lottery Winnings (PART 3) – A one in 292 Million Chance, and How it Might Affect Your Family Law Case

With the recent Powerball jackpot reaching $1.5 billion, it’s no surprise that people were flocking to convenience stores across the country to get their hands on what could be the golden ticket.  Although the chances of winning the huge payout were a measly one in 292 million, sales skyrocketed and drove the jackpot to its all-time record high.

lottoDespite the tiny chance of a big payout, the lottery inevitably got people talking about how they would spend the money…buy an island, quit their day jobs, travel the world, and completely reinvent their lives.

What would you do if you were that that lucky one in 292 million winner?  What implications would a win like that have on your personal life?  What if you happened to be going through a divorce or had gone through one even years ago? What if you or your ex was the new billionaire? Most of these questions can be answered by looking at the relevant Minnesota laws and cases.

In this three-part series we will explore:

  1. How lottery winnings might be divided during a divorce;
  2. How lottery winnings might affect a child support obligation; and
  3. How lottery winnings might affect a spousal maintenance award or subsequent modification.

 

PART 3 – How Lottery Winnings Affect Spousal Maintenance

Where the lottery winnings are considered marital property will a party still be entitled to spousal maintenance?

Either party may seek spousal maintenance from the other spouse during a divorce, and although it is not an automatic right, it may be granted if either party demonstrates need.  Where the lottery winning is deemed marital during the divorce process each party is likely to walk away with ½ the winnings and neither would have a need for financial support from the other to meet their monthly living expenses.  If the lottery winnings were deemed non-marital however the Court will consider the following factors in determining whether an award of spousal maintenance is appropriate: the length of the marriage, the age and health of the parties at the time of divorce, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, and the relative incomes of the parties.[1]

Would the lottery winnings support a modification of an existing spousal maintenance award?

Similar to child support modification, the party seeking a modification of a spousal maintenance award must show both that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, and as a result, the initial support award is unreasonable and unfair.

Minnesota has long held that the trial court is afforded broad discretion with respect to spousal maintenance awards and whether to later modify those awards, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.[2]  Many spouses seek a modification if one party’s income significantly increases or decreases, but if the court finds that the needs of each are still sufficed based on the original order, then a modification is not likely.  While the issue of whether a lottery winning would support a modification of a spousal maintenance award has yet to come before the Minnesota Courts, it’s interesting to look to other states to see how their courts addressed the issue.

In Pennsylvania, a woman in filed a motion for a modification of her spousal support award after her ex-husband won $2.8 million in the state lottery.  The court held that although the husband was now in a much better financial position than his ex-wife, the lottery ticket was purchased after the divorce and was his sole, separate property and the award was not modified.[3]  Even though it might seem fair that one should receive greater spousal support if his or her ex-spouse wins mega millions, unless he or she can demonstrate an increase in need, then the original order is likely to remain in effect.

In the alternate scenario, where a recipient of spousal maintenance wins the lottery, the party paying maintenance would very likely have a basis to modify and potentially terminate the spousal maintenance award. The basis for modification would be that the receiving spouse has a decreased need for financial support from the other spouse as a result of the lottery winning, and therefore the current award should be reduced or terminated entirely.

Because spousal maintenance cases are looked at on a case by case basis with no uniform calculator or formula, consultation with a Minnesota licensed attorney is necessary to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a spousal maintenance award and any subsequent modification request.

[1] Minn. Stat. 518.552 subd. 2 (2015)

[2] Youker v. Youker, 661 N.W.2d 266 (Minn. Ct. App. 2003)

[3] Dyer v. Dyer, 370 Pa. Super. 536 A.2d (1988).

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