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Delayed Divorce Meant $550,000 Windfall

April 25, 1990

PHOENIX (AP) _ A woman unlucky in love found good fortune in divorce when a paperwork error delayed her marital split long enough for her husband to win the lottery.

On Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld a judge’s ruling cutting Bonita Lynch in for $550,000 of her ex-husband’s winnings.

″Fortune favored husband with a jackpot, but, because his marriage had not ended, fortune dealt his wife a share,″ Judge Noel Fidel wrote for the three- judge appeals panel. ″Though the lottery was a windfall, spouses marry for better or for worse and share no less in windfalls than in labor’s wages.″

Ms. Lynch had been living apart from her husband, Michael, for about two years when she testified at an uncontested divorce hearing on Feb. 10, 1987 that their marriage was irretrievably broken.

She should have gotten her divorce that day, but her lawyers had given her husband the wrong date for the hearing, forcing a delay. The matter still wasn’t final 11 days later when her husband won $2.2 milllion in the state lottery.

Lynch, a computer expert, had bought the ticket with Donna Williams, a girlfriend he married after the divorce became final. He died last Oct. 30, but his widow fought on behalf of his estate to keep his first wife from taking a cut.

Under Tuesday’s ruling, Lynch’s widow gets to keep half the $2.2 million jackpot because half the ticket was hers to begin with. The remaining $1.1 million will be split evenly between Lynch’s first wife and his estate.

″In Arizona, ’it ain’t over till it’s over,‴ said Bonita Lynch’s attorney, Kenneth J. Love, borrowing from Yogi Berra. Love said Ms. Lynch had no comment on the ruling and did not want any details about her released.

J. Douglas McVay, a lawyer for Lynch’s widow, said no decision has been made on an appeal.

A call to a Phoenix-area listing for Donna Lynch was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Michael and Bonita Lynch married in 1968 and separated in 1985. He began living with Donna Williams in 1986. Bonita Lynch filed for divorce the same year. After Lynch won the lottery, she filed for a share of the winnings.

Superior Court Judge Rufus Coulter awarded her a share on the grounds all assets acquired during a marriage are community property.

Lynch appealed, saying that his ″will to union″ with his first wife had ended by Feb. 10 and that it was her lawyers who made the mistake.

The appeals panel rejected the arguments, saying that the paperwork errors were unintentional.

″This case displays the hand of chance,″ Fidel wrote.

The appeals court also said it was unclear when the ″will to union″ was really broken because the couple discussed reconciliation through much of the separation.

As late as 1987, Bonita Lynch helped her former husband ″in a medical emergency, checked him into an alcoholic rehabilitation program, and agreed to join him in family counseling,″ the court said.

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