While some wives might be fond of saying that they “won the lottery” when they married their husbands, the really lucky ones have husbands who win the lottery and surprise them with the proceeds.

That’s what’s happening in nearby Cross, South Carolina where, according to Live 5 News, a local man won $500,000 on the Palmetto Cash 5 last week and still has not told his wife about it.  From the news station’s website:

CROSS, SC (WCSC) – Lottery officials say the Cross man who won $500,000 on a Palmetto Cash 5 ticket last week still has not told his wife about his lucky day.

The man won the money last Wednesday night, but told officials he left his wife sleeping in bed to drive to Columbia to collect his winnings.

The money will be used to pay off the couple’s house and to buy new vehicles.

“I’m her prize now,” he joked.

Because the man paid $1 extra for a multiplier, the prize jumped from $100,000 to $500,000.  Officials say the odds of winning $500,000 playing Palmetto Cash 5 are 1 in 8,031,072.

While we could go back and forth all day about the inherent marital wisdom of winning the lottery, earmarking the proceeds, and not telling your spouse about it, one thing that is more easily settled is how the Family Courts in the Palmetto State treat lottery proceeds insofar as marital property is concerned.

Pursuant to S.C. Code § 20-3-630, and subject to a few exceptions, marital property is defined as “all real and personal property which has been acquired by the parties during the marriage and which is owned as of the date of filing or commencement of marital litigation … regardless of how legal title is held.”  So long as no action for divorce or separate support and maintenance has been filed prior to the winning ticket being sold, lottery winnings would be considered marital property and subject to equitable distribution should it prove true that money cannot buy marital happiness and a subsequent action for divorce or separate support and maintenance be filed.

Should a new domestic action indeed be filed, however, then the proceeds from the winnings are indeed subject to equitable distribution.  Here in the Palmetto State, equitable distribution is controlled by S.C. Code § 20-3-620, which sets forth the factors considered by the court in apportioning property.  Those factors include, but are certainly not limited to, incidences of marital misconduct, current and potential financial condition, health of each spouse, and more, and the statutory factor analysis has been ratified in 2003 as the appropriate method of apportioning lottery proceeds by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Thomas v. Thomas.

The hope, of course, is that domestic litigation should not be necessary at all.  To best avoid marital litigation, it is my advice as both as a happily married former child of divorce and as a family law practitioner to be sure to communicate well with your spouse.  Winning $500,000 in the state lottery is a major marital event; the wise course of action would have been to involve the other spouse from the beginning, and let her share in the surprise and glee.

Then again, if everyone followed the wise course of action and communicated appropriately with their spouse, I’d be out of a job.