If one hits the jackpot, they may be able to simply walk away without giving the other anything.
The case involved a woman who had won £500,000 on the National Lottery. She bought the winning ticket with her own money and without her husband’s knowledge.
The couple, who can’t be named for legal reasons, were living in a council house at the time and used the winnings to buy a £275,000 house.
A few years later, the couple’s marriage broke down and the husband moved out of the family home.
He claimed a share of the lottery winnings as part of the divorce settlement but the court ruled against him. The judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, said he was not entitled to an equal share because the wife’s lottery winnings were not “matrimonial property”.
However, the husband was entitled to a share of the proceeds from the family home because when the wife bought it with her winnings, she had converted it into “matrimonial property”. He still wasn’t entitled to an equal share as he had only lived there for a short time.
He was therefore awarded a lump sum of only £85,000, even though the house is now worth an estimated £500,000.
The ruling has surprised many lawyers. Generally speaking, wealth accrued during the marriage is shared equally.
There’s been growing trend for inherited wealth to be protected during divorce proceedings, but this ruling seems to suggest that other wealth acquired by one partner alone could also be excluded from the settlement.
The judge did stress that if the couple had bought the ticket as a sort of “syndicate” between them, then any winnings should be shared equally.
The other interesting point is that the wife could have kept all the money for herself if she hadn’t used some of it for the benefit of the family. When she bought the home, she effectively turned that part of her winnings into matrimonial property and that was then available to be shared.
If couples are concerned about how wealth accumulated by one partner alone should be shared, they could consider drawing up a post-nuptial agreement so everything is agreed in advance should problems arise in the future.