Man Who Won Mega Millions Jackpot During Divorce Case Must Share Prize

June 20, 2019 - 8:41 am

PONTIAC (WWJ/AP) - An Oakland County man who was in the middle of a divorce when he won more than $38 million must share the lottery windfall with his ex-wife.

The Michigan appeals court says a marriage isn't over until it's over. It means Mary Beth Zelasko can keep $15 million awarded by an arbitrator, even though she and Rich Zelasko had been separated for two years when he bought the winning Mega Millions ticket in July 2013. Their divorce wasn't final until 2018.

Click here to see the appeals court ruling (.pdf format)

In a court filing, an attorney for Rich Zelasko said, "Rich was lucky, but it was his luck, not Mary's, that produced the lottery proceeds." He won the $80 million Mega Millions jackpot -- after taxes and deductions, those winnings amounted to $38,873,628 -- long after the couple separated and even after an arbitration process began, the attorney argued, so the prize should be his alone.

But arbitrator John Mills said the ticket, which cost $1, was marital property. The couple had agreed to have Mills make certain decisions during the divorce case. Mills said this was probably not the first lottery ticket that Rich Zelasko purchased during the marriage and that, "as losses throughout the marriage were incurred jointly, so should winnings be shared jointly."

The appeals court last week found no errors in Mills' decision and affirmed Mary Beth Zelasko's $15 million award.