What Maryland Law Does With Assets You Acquired Long After You and Your Spouse Separated But Before You Divorced

There are several factual scenarios that potentially can complicate your divorce. One of these is when you and your spouse separate (and remain that way) for decades before seeking a divorce. Another is when one spouse in a long-separated-but-not-divorced couple comes into significant wealth. These are but two examples among the many. Almost any divorce has its unique elements that can pose challenges, though, which is why it is well worth your time and effort to retain a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer to represent you in your case.

In the United States, late November is a special time to reflect and be thankful for the good things in our lives. Those sources of gratefulness could be everything from finding a new love to continued good health to… winning the lottery.

The joy that can come from “striking it rich” may be lessened, though, if you have an estranged spouse in your life. That was the scenario on the mind of one wife who wrote to the publication The Penny Hoarder recently. The wife left her husband in 1990, but the two never divorced, according to her letter. In recent months, the wife received information that her estranged husband may have won a large lottery prize, and her letter to the publication centered on her options for getting a portion of those lottery winnings.

A spouse’s legal rights to their estranged spouse’s assets obtained after the couple separated is an issue that varies from state to state. For example, in neighboring Virginia, assets acquired post-separation generally belong solely to the spouse who acquired them. In Virginia, a husband who wins big in the lottery years or decades after his wife left him is someone who, in many cases, would owe her none of the lottery proceeds, even if the couple was still legally married at the time.

Maryland Law Looks at a Long List of Factors

Here in Maryland, the law works differently. Any asset acquired before the divorce trial is an asset that potentially can be subject to equitable distribution in the divorce judgment. So, if your wife left you in 1989 and you filed for divorce in 2020 then, yes, that $2 million lottery prize you scored in 2019 can factor into the court’s judgment when it comes to equitable distribution and a monetary award.

Don’t misunderstand… if you won $2 million in the lottery 30 years after your spouse left you, that doesn’t automatically mean that your spouse gets $1 million out of those winnings. Maryland has a statute that lists numerous factors that the trial judge is required to consider. That includes “how and when” a specific marital asset “was acquired, including the effort expended by each party in accumulating” that wealth.

Back in 1993, for example, the Court of Appeals threw out a divorce judgment that gave the estranged wife 1/2 of the $1 million+ the husband won in the D.C. lottery. The high court said that the husband, “using his own funds, purchased the ticket and won the Lotto. This event was not dependent in any way on the parties’ joint efforts or shared life, past or present.” As a result, the statutory factors weighed against giving the wife half of the lottery winnings.

If you are seeking a divorce, there inevitably are things about your case that make it different from others. To make sure that you are getting everything you should from your divorce action, you need a seasoned legal pro who can take your unique facts and mesh them with the law to yield the best possible result. For the knowledgeable advocacy your case deserves, reach out to the experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. We are here to provide the legal assistance you need every step of the way. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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