Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Court Rules Husband Must Divide Lottery Winnings

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently released an unpublished decision ordering the division of lottery winnings won while the parties were separated, but not yet divorced.

Zelasko v Zelasko, COA 342854, is a high-stakes divorce action that has found itself at the Court of Appeals twice. The parties were in the middle of arbitration with an arbitrator who became ill and passed away, which caused multiple issues requiring appellate review.

Mr. Zelasko purchased a lottery ticket while the parties were separated for 5 years and after the arbitration hearing had been completed, but before the arbitration award had been rendered, and won $80M. Prior to winning the lottery, Mr. Zelasko worked in a t-shirt shop. The arbitrator ordered Mr. Zelasko to divide his winnings as they are considered marital property. The arbitrator reasoned that the $1 spent to purchase the lottery ticket was marital money and any loss or gain earned should be considered part of the marital estate.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the arbitrator's award, and pursuant to Byington v Byington, 224 Mich App 103; 568 NW2d 141 (1997), awarded Ms. Zelasko $15M of the lottery winnings.  “The goal of the court when apportioning a marital estate is to reach an equitable division in light of all the circumstances.” Byington, 224 Mich App at 114.

This case has garnered national attention. See this article from the Washington Post.

For questions about divorce and the arbitration process, contact Breitmeyer Cushman PLLC.