The interplay of winning the lottery and divorce is in the news. That’s because of an interesting new report out of Sweden that is showing married women who win the lottery are more likely to divorce than men who win the lottery.
The Big Payout
The Swedish study, titled “Fortunate Families? The effects of wealth on marriage and fertility”, tried to analyze the short term effects of large, positive wealth shocks on marriage and fertility in a sample of Swedish lottery players up to 10 years after a lottery windfall.
Researchers found that married women who win the lottery are almost twice as likely as married men to file for a divorce in the aftermath of a win compared to male lottery winners.
“When the winning player is a married woman, our estimates suggest that a 1 million-Swedish krona windfall almost doubles the base-line short-run divorce rate”
The study made a point of noting that winning the lottery as a woman doesn’t cause more divorces — it simply accelerates them for women whose dissolution was already underway. The authors also show this divorce effect after women win the lottery fades away in the long-run.
Florida Lottery and Divorce
But how are lottery winnings distributed in a divorce? I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.
However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.
In Florida, nonmarital assets which are not divided include things such as assets acquired before the marriage; assets you acquired separately by non-interspousal gift, and assets excluded as marital in a valid written agreement. Conversely, marital assets which are subject to division generally include things like assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage and the enhancement in value of some nonmarital assets.
Florida is an equitable distribution state, and all assets acquired during the marriage are considered marital property. So, if a spouse wins the lottery while still married to the other, it is generally going to be considered marital property and split equitably in the event of a divorce.
However, this does not mean that the winnings must be split equally. The lottery winnings should be factored into the entire equitable distribution scheme. After adding the lottery millions to the equation, a court can look at the marital debts and take into consideration if the lucky spouse who won the lottery has a gambling addiction and accrued massive debts.
Men who win the lottery actually have higher marriage rates, and a reduced divorce risk suggesting, surprisingly, that wealth actually increases men’s attractiveness! According to Swedish researchers:
“Long-term divorce risk goes down when husbands win the lottery.”
In fact, a lottery win for men increases the chance of unmarried men getting married in the five years after they win by 30 percent, while the chances of married men getting divorced is reduced by 40 percent.
There is an impact on fertility by winning the lottery too. The study found that, not only are male winners much more likely to get or stay married, they also end up having more children. This trend in the fertility of lottery winners was consistent regardless of whether the man was married or not.
Apparently, the Swedish study concluded wealth actually makes men seem more appealing to current prospective partners and gives women lottery winners an early out from unsatisfactory relationships.
These results are compatible with previous empirical evidence showing that a higher husband’s income or employment stabilizes marriages, while an increase in wives’ income or employment has the opposite effect.
The Guardian article is here.