My partner and I have been together for five years. On our fifth anniversary she bought a lottery ticket using the numbers of our birthdays and our anniversary. Unbelievably, she won. But the problem is we have been fighting ever since and are now considering breaking up. We are registered domestic partners in New York City. If I leave her, do I get half of the winnings—which, by the way, are substantial? -All or nothing
Dear All or Nothing:
I don’t know if congratulations are in order. I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but you have absolutely no claim to her winnings. While someone in a heterosexual marriage would be able to assert her right to a portion of her spouse’s lottery winnings, people in registered domestic partnerships do not have this right under New York City and State law.
A domestic partner is not a spouse. Domestic partners have very specific rights under local and state statutes. These are very narrow in scope, and include things like rights of succession to rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments and rights to benefits for partners who work for the City of New York. But the law does not recognize you and your soon-to be-ex as a marital unit. Therefore, there are no joint assets and no right to equitable distribution if the relationship dissolves.
I am assuming you live in New York City. Because New York State recognizes marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions, you’ve raised an interesting question: Would you have a claim to a part of the lottery proceeds if you were married in a jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages, but brought a divorce action here in New York?
But assuming you are not married in any jurisdiction, this does not apply to you. My advice? Either cut your losses and let the winnings go, or find a good couples’ counselor and try to stay with your partner. My strongest suggestion is get involved in the fight for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York through a great organization like Marriage Equality New York (meny.us)