ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 3 -- A Maryland man who won $1.1 million in the D.C. Lotto must give half his winnings to his former wife, even though the couple were separated when the husband bought his lucky ticket, a state appeals court said today.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals ruled that Herman Alston, a retired D.C. prison guard, will have to share the annual $44,000 payments he is due to receive over the next 18 years with his wife of 25 years, Viola.
The Alstons had been living apart for two years when Herman Alston won the lottery in 1987 and were divorced in 1989 on the grounds that he had committed adultery. Under Maryland law, any assets secured before a couple's divorce are considered marital property.
Herman Alston's attorney, Ann M. Turnbull, said today that although her client did not dispute that the lottery proceeds were marital property, he argued that "because of the lengthy separation and the way the assets were acquired, a 50-50 separation would not be fair to the husband."
The court disagreed, and ruled that the Baltimore County judge who signed the couple's divorce decree "did not abuse" his discretion by awarding Viola Alston half her estranged husband's winnings. The court noted that Viola Alston had assumed virtually all responsibility for caring for the couple's two children, while Herman "put forth little effort to win the D.C. Lotto."
Today's ruling is the first time a state appeals court considered the issue of whether lottery proceeds are different from other forms of marital property. But attorneys for the two sides said they doubted the ruling would set much of a precedent, primarily because the facts surrounding divorces differ so much from case to case -- and because of the odds against winning a lottery.