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Are Lottery Winnings a Marital Asset?

Georgia categorizes the property owned by married couples as either martial or separate property. Marital property is defined as the assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Marital assets can come in any form such as real estate, investments, retirement accounts and vehicles. In contrast, separate property is that which was acquired by the parties prior to the marriage.

A divorce is not final until the court enters what is called a “final decree” outlining the terms such as how property will be divided and whether either party will receive support. This typically doesn’t create conflict due to most divorcing couples refraining from acquiring additional assets until their divorce has concluded. Unfortunately, the timing of life events is not always ideal. Georgia Superior Court case Messick v. Messick 858 S.E. Sd 758 (2021) involved a couple that won the lottery prior to their pending divorce proceedings concluding. In that case the wife filed an action for divorce and a Settlement Agreement. The wife requested that the court incorporate the agreement into the Final Decree of Divorce. However, she won a substantial prize in the lottery prior to the court issuing its Final Order.

The court in Messick determined that at the time of the lottery winning the marriage had not yet been terminated. This was because the trial court had not entered the Divorce Decree in the case. Therefore, the court determined that the wife acquired the lottery proceeds during the marriage, despite having filed for divorce and signed the settlement agreement. The parties engaged in extensive litigation with the wife arguing that both parties signing the Settlement Agreement should preclude the husband from receiving proceeds from the lottery. However, as previously stated, the court’s issuance of the Final Divorce Decree is what controls. Therefore, husband prevailed.

Due to the nature of some assets it may be difficult to determine which category a specific asset falls under. Additionally, some separate property assets can become martial property if said items are comingled. The Faucette Law Firm, LLC represents clients in all divorce and family law matters such as, contested and uncontested divorce, child support, child custody, spousal support, legitimation and modification. Our law firm will guide you through the legal process and explain all of your options. If you have any questions about your marital or separate property contact our firm today for a consultation.