COMMENTARY: Impending divorce puts winner in bind

prev
next

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

To most people, winning the lottery is a dream come true. You may have a lot more "friends" than you used to, but winners are thrilled to be able to share their good fortune with loved ones and enrich their family's lives.

While timing is almost never perfect, it's safe to say that 2013 was not the right time for Richard Zelasko to win $80 million in the Mega Millions jackpot. Why? He was going through a divorce.

A July 13, 2019 unpublished opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the arbitration award that provided Mary Zelasko with a good chunk of her husband's lottery earnings. The parties were married less than 10 years when Mary filed for divorce. As part of the process, arbitrator John F. Mills was appointed to issue awards on contested matters. His rulings dealt with normal run of the mill divorce issues parenting time, expenses for the kids and then Richard won the lottery. Mills noted that most people play the Lotto more than once in their life, and that the parties had probably lost marital money playing the lottery in the past, so any win should be rightfully shared. Richard also had not provided financial support for the couple's three children during the divorce. Mills concluded that the jackpot was part of the marital estate, and awarded Mary $15 million.

As one would expect, Richard asked the court to vacate the lottery award to Mary, and the court said "no." This pattern continued for other awards that Richard couldn't swallow. The last hearing with the parties and Mills occurred in June 2014, with the arbitrator to issue his final ruling by July. This final decision was to "incorporate all of the interim awards" that arbitrator Mills already decided. Unfortunately, Mills died before issuing the last award.

The parties entered into a consent judgment of divorce, but in a last ditch effort, Richard appealed the judgment. He argued that the arbitrator exceeded his authority and failed to apply Michigan law appropriately. The Court of Appeals provided an in depth opinion which detailed the very limited number of reasons for a court to vacate an arbitrator's award. Unfortunately, none of pieces fit into Richard's puzzle.

The court didn't agree with Richard's contention that Mills was biased, an error had been made, or that there was a problem with the arbitration awards being untimely issued. Interestingly enough, Mills had gone beyond the 60 days allotted to issue his awards in the past, but neither party complained. The timeliness became a problem after the lottery earnings were divided. Richard had actually agreed to the arbitration for the jackpot proceeds, probably expecting a result more favorable to him. The Court of Appeals refused to vacate Mary's award.

In the end, Richard lost the legal lottery battle, but not for a lack of trying. His luck had simply run out.

--------

Marie E. Matyjaszek is an attorney referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

Published: Fri, Jul 19, 2019

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »