While each divorce case differs from one another, generally anything you acquire while married to your spouse will likely be considered marital property during your divorce. Of course, there are exceptions to this, and you can learn exactly what these are by speaking with a skilled family law attorney in Michigan. When considering marital property, the court generally looks to divide all of it equally among spouses, even those assets you may have gained before your divorce while the two of you were separated.

One Michigan man was made aware of how the court system works in the State of Michigan after he became the lucky winner of the $80 million Mega Million lottery jackpot back in 2013. People Magazine shared the story involving Richard “Dick” Zelasko, the man who was forced to split his winnings with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Mary Beth Zelasko. The couple married back in 2004 and had three children together. They later separated for two years and during that time they weren’t living together, Zelasko won the Mega Million jackpot.

Although Zelasko had won $80 million, after taxes and deductions, he only took home $38,873,628. And because his divorce had not been finalized at the time he collected his winnings, “a Michigan appeals court ruled that the Pontiac native must pay his ex-wife half the winnings,” reported People. The arbitrator assigned to the case “determined that Dick’s lottery winnings were “part of the marital estate” and likely not his first purchased ticket.” Dick’s attorney, however, argued that “Rick was lucky, but it was his luck, not Mary’s that produced the lottery proceeds.”

After all was said and done, Mary Beth was awarded $15 million of the jackpot winnings and the couple finalized their divorce in 2018.

Now, although this particular situation is one that is rather rare, there are times where one party in a marriage may come into some money during the time they are separated from their spouse. And depending on how the money was acquired and who your family law lawyer is, you could very well be required to split it with your soon-to-be ex-husband or wife just like Zelasko was.

Separate Property vs. Marital Property: What’s the Difference?

Separate property is any property that belongs to one spouse and was likely acquired before the couple wed. This could be an inheritance, real-estate, or other assets that one spouse already possessed ownership of before tying the knot. When property is considered “separate” in a marriage, it means that:

  1. It shall not con­sidered as part of the marital estate.
  2. It will not be divided by the divorce court.
  3. It will be awarded to the party prevail­ing upon a separate property claim, but for limited statutory ex­ceptions.

[Source: Michigan State Bar].

Marital property, however, is property that was acquired during the marriage and belongs to both parties. This could be real-estate, retirement savings accounts, inheritances, etc. Although the court does look to divide up marital property along with liabilities equally, it doesn’t necessarily mean the assets are split evenly down the middle. The court shall take into account several different factors before determining who is awarded what.

If I believe certain assets that were acquired in my marriage belong to me, do I still have to divide them?

It all depends. While Dick Zelasko and his attorney felt that his winnings belonged to him as he and his wife had already separated, the court still ruled in his wife’s favor. Therefore, if there is property you would like to maintain ownership of but worry the court is going to require you to split it, you should consult with Lansing, MI family law attorney Stuart R. Shafer. Distinguishing between what would be considered as marital property and what would be classified as separate property can be tricky as there are certain laws and guidelines the court will use to decide how to classify each asset in question.

Sometimes, what one spouse might assume to be his or hers actually belongs to both parties involved in the marriage. However, in other instances, the court may decide to award assets to one party rather than divide it as all marital property is. For instance, residences are one asset that can be difficult to divide, especially when there are children involved and currently reside in the home.

In any event, marital property and separate property can create a major rift between you and your spouse and even prevent your divorce from being finalized. So, to be sure you understand your rights and aren’t forced to hand over assets that shouldn’t be divided, contact the Law Offices of Stuart R. Shafer, P.C.now to speak with an experienced divorce attorney in Lansing, MI who is prepared to help you with your case.


You can reach the Law Offices of Stuart R. Shafer, P.C.at:

1223 Turner Street, #333

Lansing, MI 48906


Website: www.stushafer.com