Singapore's top court has ruled that the lottery winnings of a spouse are part of a couple's matrimonial assets to be shared equally, when the ticket is bought with the intention of benefiting the family instead of the winner alone.
In reversing a High Court decision, the Court of Appeal made clear it is not laying down a "blanket rule" that lottery prize money must be shared equally when two people divorce.
Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said the presumption is that both contributed equally to the matrimonial pool from the winnings, unless the spouse who bought the winning ticket can show it was bought for his or her benefit only and not for the family's benefit as a whole.
"The more important point is the intention with which that ticket was purchased," he said yesterday on behalf of the court, which included Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li.
The High Court had held last year that the husband who bought the winning $1.25 million Singapore Pools 4-D ticket can treat the sum as his contribution to the purchase of the family home, without the wife having any share in the contribution.
But Judge of Appeal Phang noted: "On the facts of the present case, it is clear that the (husband) did not purchase the winning lottery in 2002 with the intention of keeping the winnings for himself since he had deposited the winnings into the parties' DBS joint account and utilised these winnings to pay down the mortgage."
The couple were married for 23 years and have two grown-up children. After their divorce, the High Court allotted the 63-year-old man 58 per cent of the matrimonial assets worth $9.3 million, and the 55-year-old woman, 42 per cent.
The wife appealed and her lawyers Linda Ong and Lim Xiao Wei argued that given the "fortuitous nature" of a lottery winning, the contributions towards the purchase of the matrimonial home from the prize money should be apportioned equally between the husband and wife, and not solely to the man.
The husband, defended by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and lawyer Lim Shu Fen, said he was an inveterate gambler who had not only won but lost as well and the losses were not "insubstantial".
The Court of Appeal was not convinced, saying the losses incurred via lottery tickets "actually depleted the then-existing matrimonial assets".
It held that lottery winnings constitute a "matrimonial asset" within the meaning of section 112(10) of the Women's Charter for the purpose of division between the parties, adding that the reading is also supported by both case law and relevant legal literature.
As a result of the court's finding, the wife's overall contribution to the matrimonial pool climbed to 49.1 per cent from the previous 42 per cent. Hence, the wife would receive about $4.574 million of the total $9.317 million in assets, up from the previous $3.913 million.
In addition, the husband had won a total of $1,281,238 between 2011 and 2013, which he deposited into his personal account, while the wife had won $10,000 in 2010.
The court noted that the lottery winnings between 2010 and 2013 can be distinguished from the husband's 2002 lottery winnings, since they were bought after the couple separated in 2004 and were close to the date at which the interim judgment of divorce was granted in 2014.
"It can be inferred that both parties did not intend for any winnings from these tickets to be for the benefit of the family, but instead for each of themselves only," said the court.
The court ordered the husband to pay $20,000 in costs to the wife for the appeal case, while both parties were to bear their own costs in the preceding High Court case.