Case Summaries

BOI v BOJ [2019] SGCA 30


2 May 2019

Case summary

BOI v BOJ [2019] SGCA 30
Civil Appeal No 93 of 2018


Decision of the Court of Appeal (delivered by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang Boon Leong):

Outcome: CoA holds that lottery winnings are matrimonial assets under the Women’s Charter and that contributions to the matrimonial pool from lottery winnings are to be attributed equally between divorcing parties since lottery ticket purchased with intention of benefitting family.

Background to the appeal

1              This was an appeal by the wife (“the Appellant”) against the judgment of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) on the ancillary orders in divorce proceedings. Amongst others, the Appellant appealed against the Judge’s order that the matrimonial assets valued at over $9m were to be divided in the proportion of 42% to the Appellant and 58% to the husband (“the Respondent”), based on the parties’ respective direct and indirect contributions.

Material facts

2              In 2002, $1.25m was won through a Singapore Pools 4-D bet. Both the Appellant and the Respondent claimed credit for the lottery win. The prize money was deposited into the Appellant’s and Respondent’s joint bank account and used mainly to repay the mortgage loans for the matrimonial home.

3              The Judge found that the winning lottery ticket was purchased by the Respondent and that the lottery winnings used to repay the mortgage loans were his contributions towards the acquisition of the matrimonial home, not the Appellant’s contributions.

4              On appeal, the Appellant submitted that the Judge erred in finding that it was the Respondent and not the Appellant who had won the lottery. She submitted that, alternatively, given the fortuitous nature of a lottery winning, the contributions towards the acquisition of the matrimonial home from the prize money should have been attributed equally between the parties and should not have been attributed entirely to the Respondent.

Decision of the Court of Appeal

5              The Court of Appeal held that a lottery winning received during the marriage is a “matrimonial asset” pursuant to the definition of the same under s 112(10) of the Women’s Charter (Cap 353, 2009 Rev Ed) (“the Act”). Based on the plain meaning of the terms, a lottery winning does not constitute a “gift” or an “inheritance”. Lottery winnings therefore do not fall within the exception for a “gift” or an “inheritance” under s 112(10) of the Act, and instead forms part of the pool of matrimonial assets to be divided between the parties in divorce proceedings. There is also support for such a view in both the case law and legal literature (at [9]–[16]).

6              In relation to the issue of how contributions to the matrimonial pool from lottery winnings should be attributed between the parties, the Judge erred in basing her decision only on who purchased (ie, provided the funds for) the winning ticket.

7              Unlike other sources of income, for instance, CPF savings which are the fruits of one’s own labour, lottery ticket winnings are realised as a matter of luck or stroke of good fortune. There is also a radical disproportionality between the amount paid for a winning lottery ticket and the amount of the winnings themselves. These special characteristics of lottery winnings make the source of the funds for the purchase of the winning ticket less legally significant (at [25]).

8              Because of the special nature of lottery winnings, if the lottery ticket was purchased for the family, with the intention that the family as a whole is to benefit from any prize money, the party who bought the ticket would not be regarded as being the sole contributor of the lottery winnings to the pool of matrimonial assets. Instead, the contribution from the prize money would be treated as the equal joint contribution of both spouses. There is therefore a presumption that both spouses contribute equally to any assets acquired from lottery winnings, unless the spouse who purchased the winning lottery ticket can show that he or she purchased that ticket with a view to only benefitting himself or herself, and not with a view that the family as a whole should benefit (at [20], [29]).

9              However, much would depend on the precise facts and circumstances of the particular case. If, for example, the spouses had an arrangement whereby resources from both parties were pooled in order to purchase lottery tickets on a regular basis, then it would clearly be the case, based on the evidence, that each party contributed any lottery winnings equally to the pool of matrimonial assets. No reliance on the presumption would be needed (at [26], [29]). 

10           On the facts of the present case, it was clear that the Respondent did not purchase the winning lottery ticket in 2002 with the intention of keeping the winnings for himself since he had deposited the winnings into the parties’ joint account and utilised these winnings to pay down the mortgage (at [22], [34]).

11           The Court of Appeal therefore reversed the decision of the Judge on the issue of lottery winnings and held that the contributions from the 2002 lottery winnings were attributable to the Appellant and Respondent equally. Attributing the contributions from the 2002 lottery winnings equally, and leaving the contributions as found by the Judge for the rest of the matrimonial assets unchanged, the average overall ratio of the Appellant’s contributions was held to be 49.1%, instead of 42%. The appeal was therefore allowed in part (at [36], [39]).

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s judgment.