Divorce can be a long, tedious, and difficult process for all involved. But imagine if you won over $80 million in the lottery and were ordered to pay the ex-wife almost half of the winnings? That’s what happened to one man when an appellate court ruled that the dollar used to purchase the lottery ticket was purchased with “marital money and, as such, a joint investment.”
In July 2013, Richard Zelasko was ecstatic when he won Michigan’s $80 million lottery. After taxes and other expenses, Zelasko was left with a little over $38 million. Richard’s ex-wife Mary Elizabeth Zelasko filed for divorce in 2011, and the couple was in arbitration when Richard won the lottery, CNN reported.
Michigan’s appellate court upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that the couple split all assets in half, including the winning lottery amount. The arbitrator, who died suddenly before the court ruling, stated: “marital property includes all property acquired from the date of marriage until the date of entry of the divorce decree.”
Richard argued the arbitrator’s independent ruling was null and void after his sudden passing, but the courts didn’t see it that way as they instead opted to adhere by the original ruling.
His lawyer Scott G. Bassett claimed the funds should be Richard’s entirely. “Rich was lucky, but it was his luck, not Mary’s, that produced the lottery proceeds,” Bassett argued in court.
NBC News reported Mary was a sale associate who made $100,000 to $120,000 a year, while Richard had his own business and made $36,000 a year.
The two were married in 2004 and have three children, according to court documents. Bassett will appeal the court ruling, and if unsuccessful, he will bring the issue to the Michigan Supreme Court, according to PEOPLE.
“An equal split of an asset acquired so long after separation, and in this case after the conclusion of the divorce arbitration hearing, is extremely unusual,” Bassett explained. “We believe the arbitrator violated controlling Michigan law when he awarded Mrs. Zelasko half of the $30 million net lottery proceeds.”
The couple finalized their divorce in 2018.