They say money can’t buy happiness, but most of us are willing to give it a shot. Australians spend billions of dollars every year on lottery tickets, hoping to hit pay-dirt. Unfortunately, even if we strike it rich, getting our hands on it is one thing, but keeping it is another. There are plenty of ‘riches to rags’ stories about lottery winners losing it all. Way back in 1988 US man William ‘Bud’ Post famously won a massive US$16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery only to find himself US$1 million in debt within a year. After his former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of the winnings, and he squandered the rest, he ended up on welfare and food stamps.

But it seems excess, largess, and just plain stupidity, are not the only ways a fortune can slip through your fingers.

In a recent matrimonial property dispute case, the Full Bench of the Family Court of Australia ruled a husband had no right to share in his estranged wife’s $6 million lottery winnings. The wife purchased the winning ticket after the couple separated, but the husband argued the money she used to buy the ticket came from ‘joint funds’ belonging to them both, and therefore he had contributed to the purchase of the ticket for the purposes of s.79 of the Family Law Act 1975, and should share in the winnings. A single judge of the Family Court rejected the husband’s argument in May last year, but he appealed the decision to the Full Court, which handed down its judgement earlier this month. In concluding the husband did not contribute to the wife’s lottery winnings, the court followed a similar decision of the English High Court, where the Family Division concluded the price of a lottery ticket was so inconsequential “as can be safely disregarded.” The Australian court ruled the winnings were not connected to the marriage, observing that “at the time the wife purchased the ticket, regardless of the source of the funds, the ‘joint endeavour’ that had been the parties’ marriage had dissolved” and therefore there was no longer a common use of matrimonial property entitling the husband to share in its income.

I guess it’s probably too late to just kiss and make up.

Chris Nyst – Gold Coast Lawyer, Novelist and Film Maker

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