Earlier this year, a Michigan court made an interesting ruling in an unusual case involving a husband who won a lottery jackpot during his separation prior to divorce. Here in Florida, we have Powerball, Mega Millions, Jackpot Triple Play and a bunch of other lottery games, but you’re highly unlikely to win an eight-figure jackpot in the lottery, especially while you’re going through a divorce.
However, the Michigan lottery winner’s case does pose some worthwhile questions. What if the events had occurred in Florida instead of Michigan? What if the multi-million-dollar new asset wasn’t a stroke of luck like a lottery jackpot but was something related to your business? For business people, these scenarios are entirely plausible, and serve as a reminder that, if you’re in that position, you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida divorce attorney handling your legal needs and protecting your interests.
The Michigan couple, R.Z. and M.Z., married in 2004. By 2011, the marriage had broken down and each spouse had filed a divorce complaint. The divorce, however, did not resolve quickly. The arbitrator assigned to the case decided the issue of property division in November 2013. The “wrinkle,” so to speak, was that the husband had purchased a winning lottery ticket in July 2013. This was no ordinary lottery “score;” the man’s net winnings after taxes were $38 million.
The arbitrator decided that the jackpot was a marital asset and that the wife was entitled to $15 million. An appeals court recently upheld that decision.
In Florida, the outcome of the case would have been very different. Generally, there are several events that can trigger an “end date” for purposes of determining marital versus non-marital assets. A divorce petition is one. Note that, in the Michigan case, the wife filed for divorce and the husband filed a counter-complaint for divorce. Each of those filings occurred more than 18 months before the husband bought his winning lottery ticket.
Another event that can create an “end date” for determining marital versus non-marital assets is the signing of a marital separation agreement by both spouses. Florida law gives contract parties wide latitude in the terms they can put in their agreements. A marital separation agreement can designate a different date for the cut-off for differentiating marital versus non-marital assets. So, even if you and your spouse signed your marital settlement agreement on July 1, 2019, the law allows you to include a clause in the contract that say that the cut-off for marital assets was something other than July 1.
As another option, you and your spouse can sign a postnuptial agreement, which can address most of the same issues related to marital versus non-marital property and division of assets and liabilities.
Your separation agreement or postnuptial agreement may be an important step in your divorce process, working to protect your significant business assets from being lost or tied up in your impending divorce.
To be sure you have the legal representation you need to get the protection you deserve during a high-asset divorce, contact the South Florida divorce attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman. Our divorce lawyers have been providing effective representation and successful solutions to our Florida clients for many years.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.