Talk about bad timing.
In July 2013, Richard Zelasko won an $80 million Mega Millions jackpot. What started as perhaps one of the greatest moments of his life turned into a years-long battle over how much of the money he would get to keep. After taxes, his winnings were an estimated $38,873,628.
Unfortunately for Zelasko, he purchased his winning ticket while locked in a bitter divorce with his now ex-wife, Mary Elizabeth Zelasko. The couple had been separated since 2009 and filed for divorce in 2011. They were in arbitration at the time of his winnings, according to CNN.
In an opinion issued last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Zelasko must pay Mary Elizabeth $15 million from his lottery winnings. That still leaves him with nearly $20 million — more than enough to retire on, but the blow of having to share one’s winnings with an ex had to be crushing. From CNN:
The arbitrator ruled that the ticket was part of the couple's marital assets and awarded $15 million to the wife and divided the rest of their assets, according to the opinion. He said that the "marital property includes all property acquired from the date of marriage until the date of entry of the divorce decree," including property acquired during a separation.
The court also cited the arbitrator's opinion that the winning lottery ticket was probably not the first that Richard Zelasko had purchased during the marriage and that "(a)s losses throughout the marriage were incurred jointly, so should winnings be shared jointly."
Because Zelasko’s $1 spent on the winning lottery ticket “was arguably marital money,” the arbitrator considered it “a joint investment.” The appellate court upheld the arbitrator’s decision. The divorce was finalized in 2018.
Michael Robbins, who has represented Zelasko since 2015, told CNN, “It's very difficult to overturn an arbitration.”
Robbins also said Zelasko could still appeal this ruling and was “considering his options.”
While arguing for his client, Robbins said it was Zelasko’s luck “not Mary’s, that produced the lottery proceeds,” the Detroit Free Press reported. It was also Zelasko’s luck that he won the money before his divorce was finalized.
This case makes more sense than another man who recently received bad news regarding his divorce. In Argentina, a man was ordered to pay his ex-wife nearly $179,000 because she quit her job to raise their kids and take care of the household. She struggled financially after the divorce while he did not.
“The economic dependence of wives on their husbands is one of the central mechanisms through which women are subordinated to society, In most families, women still mainly assume the burden of domestic chores and the care of children, even when they perform some external activity," a judge wrote.