The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division) has ruled that the purchaser of a winning lottery ticket does not have to share the money with his former common-law partner:
A $50,000 lottery prize that was used in part for a down payment on a home and kept in a joint bank account is not a mutual asset of a Nova Scotia couple who separated after living together for more than eight years, a judge has ruled.
The decision, issued this week by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, illustrates the limited division of property rights for common-law couples, even when there is an unexpected financial windfall.
The court ruled in favour of Yvon Hache, a Halifax contractor who purchased an instant scratch ticket in May 2004. His common-law partner, Marie Doucette, scratched the ticket and discovered it was worth $50,000.
The couple travelled together to the regional lottery offices to collect the prize. They paid off some tax bills and used a significant portion as a down payment on a house and an adjoining lot.
For more than three years they lived in the home until the couple separated in June 2008.
Justice Mona Lynch was asked to resolve a number of financial issues, including the legal status of the lottery winnings. “The winning ticket was purchased by Yvon Hache and there was not a general agreement to share any lottery winnings,” the judge noted. “The lottery winnings were not a joint asset of the parties.”
Because the couple was not married, “there is not a presumption that the lottery winnings or any other property is joint,” the judge observed.
For a court to find that any unexpected windfall such as a lottery jackpot should be shared, “there must be evidence of a prior agreement,” said Kim Johnson, the lawyer who represented Mr. Hache.
If there is no formal agreement, then there must be credible evidence that a couple purchased lottery tickets together and promised to split winnings. The evidence could simply be the testimony of friends who heard a couple talk of mutual plans if they won a jackpot, explained Ms. Johnson.
While the lottery funds were put in a joint bank account, no other money was deposited. Ms. Doucette “was not even aware of the location of the joint account. Yvon Hache treated the lottery winnings as if they were his own,” Judge Lynch said.