The Edmond Sun

Opinion

August 1, 2012

Separated but not divorced can cost a financial jackpot

Richmond, Kentucky — My wife walked into a gas station and said she was buying a lottery ticket. I told her the odds were 176 million to one. She said that if she won, she would keep all the money to herself.

I explained that if she won, half of the jackpot is mine. A winning lottery ticket is a marital asset, to be split equally. Not everyone knows that.

One of the first lottery winners I ever got to know was the divorcing spouse of a guy who won the lottery. The divorce should have been final months earlier, but he was stalling it out while arguing a minor point about child support.

I’m not sure if he got his way about the child support. I do know that she got several million dollars instead.

I’m writing a new book called “Life Lessons from the Lottery.” The theme is that lottery winners have the same financial and social issues as other people. Only their problems are magnified 1,000 percent.

For those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of lottery winners, seeing a separated, but not-yet-divorced, couple hit the lottery has happened more than once.

This makes me think there are a lot of separated couples all across America.

Various census statistics say that 2 percent to 3 percent of Americans (roughly six or seven million people) are separated but don’t have their divorce final.

One of them was my late sister. She fell down a flight of stairs and died at age 46, leaving a minor child and an adult child.

She also left a husband we did not know about.

She had been married to this man for several years, and her younger child was his. However, she had told us she had divorced him several years earlier. They didn’t live together and, for most of that time, she had lived in California and he had lived in Cincinnati.

He came to her funeral, which I had arranged and paid for, and though he said hello, we didn’t really talk. Two days later, he had a lawyer file papers asking that he be named the estate administrator.

After exhaustive research, it turned out that my sister and her husband never filed for divorce. Thus, under Kentucky law, her husband was entitled to half of my sister’s estate. My nephew and niece would split the other half. It was not a lot of money but the fight caused a rift that never healed.

My sister died shortly after my mother had passed. Neither had wills, and I suspect my sister’s spouse could have elected against a will anyway. The only solution would have been for my sister’s divorce to have been finalized.

Which we thought it was.

My sister was a great example of why living separately but remaining married can blow up from a financial standpoint. However, an excellent 2010 New York Times article, “The Un-Divorced,” argues the opposite point.

People frequently live apart and stay married for financial reasons. It will be interesting to see if the most common reason, staying on a spouse’s health insurance and employee benefit plan, will change once national health care reform is completely implemented.

The Times’ article noted one of the most famous separated-but-not-divorced couples, billionaire Warren Buffett and his late wife, Susan. They separated in 1977, staying that way until Susan’s death in 2004.

Warren lived with another woman, whom he married after Susan’s death, and Susan often made public appearances with Buffett.

I suspect that someone as financially savvy as Warren Buffett had thought through the financial ramifications of his situation, but the average person does not.

Just like the average lottery player does not think about how being married but living separately will affect their situation.

Holly Lahti in Idaho won $190 million in the Mega Millions jackpot in 2011. She has zealously attempted to protect her privacy, but wound up making headlines as she was in the “separated but married” category.

Her husband, an ex-con with more than a dozen arrests on his record, came looking for his part of the loot. His first reaction was, “I won’t have to pay child support,” and according to a document obtained by RaderOnline.doc, that is exactly what happened.

Holly waived child and medical support for the children. It doesn’t say what she received in return.

Few people will ever win the lottery, but financial issues and dilemmas face anyone who is living separately but divorced.

DON MCNAY is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Email him at don@mcnay.com.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • The pessimist’s guide to grizzly bears and Earth Day

    This coming Friday, to “celebrate Earth Day,” the Walt Disney Co. will release one of those cutesy, fun-for-all-ages, nature documentaries. “Bears” is about grizzly bears.
    The trailer says, “From DisneyNature comes a story that all parents share. About the love, the joy, the struggle and the strength it takes to raise a family.”
    Talk about your misguided “Hollywood values.” I previously have acknowledged a morbid, unreasonable fear of grizzly bears, stemming from a youth misspent reading grisly grizzly-attack articles in Readers Digest. This fear is only morbid and unreasonable because I live about 1,500 miles from the nearest wild grizzly bear. Still. ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Digging out of the CIA-Senate quagmire

    Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., voted to declassify parts of its report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The White House, the CIA and the Senate still have to negotiate which portions of the report will be redacted before it is made public. But this is an important step in resolving the ugly dispute that has erupted between the intelligence committee and the intelligence agency.
    The dispute presents two very serious questions. Was the program consistent with American values and did it produce valuable intelligence? And is effective congressional oversight of secret activities possible in our democracy?

    April 15, 2014

  • Los Angeles Times: Congress extend jobless benefits again

    How’s this for irony: Having allowed federal unemployment benefits to run out in December, some lawmakers are balking at a bill to renew them retroactively because it might be hard to figure out who should receive them. Congress made this task far harder than it should have been, but the technical challenges aren’t insurmountable. Lawmakers should restore the benefits now and leave them in place until the unemployment rate reaches a more reasonable level.

    April 14, 2014

  • Many nations invested in Israel

    Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yoram Ettinger recently spoke to a gathering at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning in Oklahoma City. The event began with a presentation by Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, who told the attendee that the  upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover was an occasion for them to embrace the children of God, which is all of humanity.

    April 14, 2014

  • Coming soon: More ways to get to know your doctor

    Last week, the federal government released a massive database capable of providing patients with much more information about their doctors.
    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government agency that runs Medicare, is posting on its website detailed information about how many visits and procedures individual health professionals billed the program for in 2012, and how much they were paid.
    This new trove of data, which covers 880,000 health professionals, adds to a growing body of information available to patients who don’t want to leave choosing a doctor to chance. But to put that information to good use, consumers need to be aware of what is available, what’s missing and how to interpret it.

    April 14, 2014

  • HEY HINK: Hateful bullies attempt to muffle free speech

    Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.

    April 11, 2014

  • Putting Oklahoma parents in charge

    Oklahoma’s public schools serve many children very well. Still, for various reasons, some students’ needs are better met in private schools, in virtual schools or elsewhere. That is why two state lawmakers have introduced legislation to give parents debit cards, literally, to shop for the educational services that work best for their children.

    April 11, 2014

  • Israelis, Palestinians are losing their chance

    Developments in the Middle East suggest that prospects of success for the Israeli-Palestinian talks, to which Secretary of State John Kerry has devoted countless hours and trips, are weakening.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teens might trade naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 11, 2014

  • Tax deadline and no reform in sight

    The annual tax filing deadline, which comes next Tuesday, provides a good opportunity for tax reform advocates to decry the current law’s increasing complexity and inequities, and to urge enactment of a simpler, fairer system.

    April 10, 2014

Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

Agree
Disagree
Undecided
     View Results