Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You have to be in it to win it

Slightly belatedly, the S v AG (Financial Remedy: Lottery Prize) case that I reported upon last Friday is grabbing the attention of the mainstream media. The Daily Telegraph in particular has been going overboard about it today, with a story in their Personal Finance section (which as I write has attracted some 66 comments, mostly from Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells), a commentary and even the obligatory Top 10 divorce settlements in British courts article (not quite sure what that's got to do with anything).

It seems that much of the interest is stemming from the implications of Mr Justice Mostyn finding that lottery winnings were non-matrimonial property, in particular that this will encourage spouses not to share wealth, and will cause more acrimony on marriage breakdown. These things may be true, but I don't think we have to be too concerned in the limited context of large lottery winnings - after all, your chances of winning the lottery are about as slim as, well, your chances of winning the lottery. I can't see the floodgates being opened with hundreds of divorcing lottery winners, anxious to keep their sweaty hands on their luckily-gotten gains.

It's not the case anyway that the decision means that all lottery winnings will be non-matrimonial property. It will depend upon the facts. For example, it may be clear that entering the lottery was a joint amusement that the parties shared. In any event, in many cases the winnings will have been spent and what is left will clearly be matrimonial property.

There is, however, a wider context that may give cause for concern, as suggested by Amanda Melton in the commentary mentioned above. There does seem to be a trend towards expanding the category of "non-matrimonial property", i.e. property which is not part of the 'joint endeavour'. Lottery winnings may be rare, but inheritances (for instance) aren't. If the courts keep adding to this category, then the implications mentioned above may become real concerns.

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