Man who won $80m in the lottery must give half of winnings to estranged wife

Chelsea Ritschel

A man who won $80m playing the lottery while going through divorce proceedings will be required to give half his winnings to his ex-wife, a court has ruled.

Richard Anthony Zelasko, 50, has been told he must split the money with his estranged wife Mary Elizabeth, 48, after an arbitrator deemed the winnings part of the “marital estate”.

The couple, from Pontiac, Michigan, were married from 2004 until September 2011, at which point Elizabeth filed for divorce, according to court documents.

Two years later, Zelasko won an $80m Mega Millions lottery jackpot, which amounted to $38m after taxes and deductions.

Despite being separated at the time the ticket was purchased, the arbitrator deemed the winnings should be shared jointly because “that was probably not the first lottery ticket that defendant purchased during the marriage, and ‘as losses throughout the marriage were incurred jointly, so should winnings be shared jointly’”.

According to court documents, Elizabeth earned between $100,000 and $120,000 annually while Zelasko earned $36,000 annually during their marriage.

The documents also state Zelasko did not contribute any of the money from his winnings towards care for the couple’s three children prior to being required to do so.

In 2013, Elizabeth was awarded $15m of the lottery winnings, and in 2014, child support payments of more than $7,000.

However, after the original arbitrator died in 2014 before issuing the final award, Zelasko attempted to appeal the decision - at which point a substitute arbitrator was appointed and the decision upheld.

The decision of the first arbitrator was again upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals on 13 June 2019, after Zelasko attempted to appeal the decision a second time.