Eileen and Mike Weirsky were married for 15 years. Six months ago, Eileen and Mike were divorced. One month ago, Mike won $273 million playing the lottery. This really just happened in New Jersey. See Huffington Post Story; Ex-Husband wins Lottery.
The question we were asked, is whether Eileen would be entitled to half of the jackpot?
All the property was divided evenly in the divorce, and Eileen was ordered to pay Mike $500 a month in alimony. During the marriage Eileen was the main income earner. Can she ask for half of the winnings? Can she ask for a modification of the alimony? This case was in New Jersey, but we were asked what would happen if this case was in Nevada.
Nevada is a community property state. Community property is any property acquired during the marriage and is typically divided evenly by the court. Mike purchased the lottery ticket after the divorce was final, so Eileen would not be entitled to the winnings. Unfortunately, the court cannot force Mike to share his good fortune with an ex-spouse. But Mike’s winnings would raise the issue of whether Eileen could modify the alimony she pays.
Most often when we get a question about alimony modification, the paying spouse has suffered a decrease in income. Either from a cut in pay or change in occupation. This is the opposite, where the receiving spouse has received an increase in income.
Under Nevada Law (NRS 125.150(8)), alimony payments can be modified upon a “showing of changed circumstances”. “Changed Circumstances” can have multiple meanings, depending on the situation. One spouse might feel an increase in overtime is a changed circumstance, while another may feel an increase in rent, or new car payment might be a changed circumstance.
Good thing the law provides a helpful guide. In NRS 125.150(12), “a change of 20 percent or more in the gross monthly income of a spouse who is ordered to pay alimony shall be deemed to constitute changed circumstances.”
Now in Mike’s case of winning the lottery, he will likely take a lump sum, instead a monthly payout. A monthly payout would almost certainly be “gross monthly income” as defined in Nevada’s laws. The definition of gross monthly income is your net profits minus any contributions to taxes. Does this mean Mike wins the lottery, and because it’s not monthly income Eileen will still need to continuing paying alimony?
Probably not. Because the court can consider other factors when modifying an alimony award. NRS 125.150(9) provides guidance stating that courts “shall considerthe financial condition of each spouseThe nature and value of the respective property of each spouseThe income earning capacity of each spouse” This allows the court to look at the “need” of the receiving spouse.
With the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney, Eileen could make a clear argument that Mike’s lottery winnings dramatically improves his economic position, and he does no longer has a the need for alimony.
Although this would be a win for Eileen, it probably wouldn’t feel like it. She doesn’t need to pay alimony anymore, but she missed being a millionaire by five months.