Navigating Lotto Winnings and Divorce:

A Comprehensive Guide

In a twist of fate, winning the lottery can be both a dream come true and a life-altering event. But what happens when you win the lottery after a divorce or de facto separation? And how are family contributions, windfalls, and lottery gains treated during property settlement proceedings? reports that a woman in California was ordered by the Court to give her ex-husband the entirety of her lottery winnings after failing to disclose the windfall in her property settlement.

In 1996, after 25 years of Marriage to Mr Thomas Rossie, Mrs Denise Rossi won $3.1 million US dollars ($4.6 million AUS dollars) the lottery and eleven days later filed for divorce. Denise did not mention the winnings to her ex-husband and failed to disclose the windfall of $3.1 million in their property settlement.

Two years following the property settlement, Mr Rossie came to know of his ex-wife’s lottery winnings and obtained a Court ordered injunction. Mr Rossie filed in Court and successfully obtained an order that Denise pay her ex husband the entirely of her winnings back in instalments.

In this article, we will explore these questions and provide you with insights on handling lottery winnings during or after divorce.

Q: What Happens if I Win the Lottery after Separation from my Spouse or Defacto Partner – How Do Family Law Property Proceedings Actually Work

Winning the lottery can be an exhilarating experience, but it may also bring about complications, especially if you are going through a family law property settlement.

1. Do I Have a Duty to Disclose My Lottery Winnings?

Similar to the US, parties to a property settlement in Australia have an obligation to make full and frank financial disclosure.[1] This generally includes bank statements, pay slips, tax returns and disclosure of any windfalls.

A consequence of non-disclosure during proceedings, the party who fails to disclosure documents may be held guilty of contempt for not disclosing the document and may be ordered to pay the other party’s costs.[2] Further, the Court the Court may stay or dismiss all or part of a party’s case who fails to disclose documents.[3]

2. How are Family Contributions during the Relationship Important?

During marital or de facto separation proceedings, Courts will often consider the contributions made by each spouse or partner to the family during the relationship.[4] This includes both financial contributions, such as income earned, as well as non-financial contributions, such as caring for the home or raising children.[5]

Timing is of particular importance to a determination of contributions.[6] Contributions made at the beginning are typically given less weight than contributions made towards the end of the relationship.[7]

In addition to contributions of parties to the relationship, a Court must also be satisfied that an Order is just and equitable.[8]

Q: How are Windfalls, and Lottery Gains treated in Family Law Property Proceedings – What Does It All Mean?

1. Q: What if I Win Big Before Separation?

A windfall gain received prior to separation will be considered part of the shared property pool and treated as a contribution.[9]

In the case of Zyk & Zyk the Family Court held that a lottery ticked purchased during a relationship should be treated as both a windfall and a contribution.[10] The facts in this case involved a husband who purchased a winning lottery ticket using shared income, the winnings were treated as a joint contribution and added to the shared property pool.[11]

2. Q: What if I Win Big After Separation – Can I Keep It?

Whether a windfall gain is considered a contribution and part of the property pool following separation will depend on the circumstances of the case.

In the case of Farmer & Bramley the Husband won $5 million on the lottery 18 months after separation.[12] The Court awarded the Wife 15% ($750,000.00) of the win in the property settlement. This Order was made on the basis that the wife made substantial financial and non-financial contributions through the course of their twelve year relationship. The husband appealed this decision and was unsuccessful.

The Court in Farmer and Bramley considered that it is not the intention of the Family Law Act to specifically exclude lottery winnings made after separation from the shared property pool:[13]

‘“If it was to be determined that a majority of the community considered that one spouse should, as a general rule, have no entitlement to share in property either by good fortune or good management acquired after separation by the other spouse, then the Act would need to be amended to make this clear.”[14]


Winning the lottery can be an incredible stroke of luck, but it can also raise complex legal issues, particularly during or after marital or de facto separation. Understanding the legal implications, including potential impacts family law financial settlement and the treatment of lottery winnings as windfalls, is essential to safeguard your financial interests.

The $3.1 million mistake of Ms Rossie in her family law property proceedings was failing to disclose her winnings. Had Ms Rossie complied with her obligations for disclosure the Court would likely have made an order based on factors of Justice and Equity which accurately reflected the contributions of the parties to the relationship.

The same principles of a lottery win would also apply to any other gambling success such as a casino payout, pokie machine collect or a winning horse racing ticket.

When dealing with the complex intersection of lottery winnings and marital or de facto separation, seeking legal advice is crucial. A qualified family lawyer can help you navigate the legal implications of your lottery win, ensure your rights are protected, and provide guidance on disclosing your winnings during negotiations. By taking the right steps and seeking professional guidance, you can maximise the benefits of your lottery win and avoid making the same costly mistake as Ms Rossie.

Author: Aspen Roggeveen

[1] Family Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules (‘Rules’) 2021 Ch 6.

[2] Rules 6.17.

[3] Rules 6.17.

[4] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ss 79(4), 90SM(4).

[5] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ss 79(4)(c), 90SM(4)(c); Norbis v Norbis 161 CLR 513.

[6] Aleksovski & Aleksovski (1996) FLC 92.

[7] Aleksovski & Aleksovski (1996) FLC 92.

[8] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ss 79(2), 90SM(2); Aleksovski & Aleksovski (1996) FLC 92.

[9] Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) ss 79(4), 90SM(4)..

[10] Zyk & Zyk [1995] FAMCA 135.

[11] Zyk & Zyk [1995] FAMCA 135.

[12] Farmer & Bramley [2000] FAMCA 1615.

[13] Farmer & Bramley [2000] FAMCA 1615.

[14] Farmer & Bramley [2000] FAMCA 1615.