AFTER a year and half, the precedent-setting Fletcher v...

Salmagundi

June 25, 1993

AFTER a year and half, the precedent-setting Fletcher v. Fletcher divorce case finally seems to be nearing completion in Virginia. The central issue: how should the $7,686,629 Charlotte Fletcher won from a Maryland Lotto ticket be divided?

Is it marital property?

The trial became so ugly that there are few agreed-upon facts. Charlotte Fletcher claims that her husband, Louis, initiated their separation by moving from their Annandale, Va., residence to Prince William County in an effort to find work. He left their residence on Oct. 6, 1990, almost a month before his wife purchased the winning ticket on Nov. 4, 1990, but Mrs. Fletcher did not file for divorce in Fairfax County until November 1991.

Louis Fletcher contends that his wife announced to him that she was leaving him on Dec. 22, 1990, more than a month after she bought the winning ticket. Mr. Fletcher later filed for divorce in September 1991, in a Maryland court, after moving his residence to Baltimore.

On June 21, the final hearing was set in Virginia. Louis Fletcher seemed to be winning. A Fairfax County court-appointed commissioner determined that Louis should be granted a divorce on the basis of his wife's adultery and ruled that the separation took place after Mrs. Fletcher received her lottery winnings. That's a key point because Virginia law defines marital property as all property that is acquired before the separation. Money is widely regarded as marital property, subject to division between the spouses.

In this case, Charlotte Fletcher purchased the lottery ticket with money from the couple's communal bank account. In other words, the ticket was purchased with Louis Fletcher's earnings as well as hers.

The fact that Mrs. Fletcher chose the Lotto numbers, an act devoid of skill, gives her no more right to exclude Louis Fletcher from the winnings than to exclude him from the couple's savings. That, at least, is our reading of this complicated case.

Of course, the division of property could have been resolved much more amicably had Mrs. Fletcher never bought the Maryland Lotto ticket in the first place. But that wouldn't have made their lawyers happy.

As it was, the parties agreed to an out of court settlement on the eve of the final judicial hearing. Details of the compromise are secret.

In this Lotto game, even the winners ended up losers.

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