lottery-winner.jpgIn a stunning combination of good luck and bad luck, a 29-year-old Idaho woman won a share of the Mega Millions jackpot earlier this month. She was one of two winners in the $380 million drawing, and could take in as much as $90 million after taxes if she elects to receive a lump sum payment. That is the good luck portion of her story.
The bad luck is that she is still legally married to her estranged husband. Several news sources have reported that the two have had several encounters with law enforcement, including a 2003 incident when both spouses were arrested for battery and jailed. The two were married in 2001 and separated a few years later. However, there is no record of divorce and they are still legally married despite their separation.

It is significant that she lives in Idaho, which is one of the nation's seven community property states. In a community property state like Idaho, a spouse is entitled to half of all marital property, including property acquired after a separation. This means that the lottery winner's husband may be entitled to up to half of the winnings.

Thankfully, Georgia is a much safer state for lottery winners who have not bothered to divorce their spouses after years of separation. Instead of being a community property state, Georgia is an equitable distribution state. This means a family law judge will consider a variety of factors including the relative contributions of spouses to the marriage. Property division in Georgia may be more complex than property division in a community property state, but it is also more just in many situations.

Source: USA Today, "Lottery winner may have to split it with estranged husband," Douglas Stanglin, 1/18/2011