Trial Judge rules “Wheel of Fortune” winnings are Community Property

The Seattle Times reported that Scott Dole who won $51,600 on “Wheel of Fortune” had his winnings cut in half by a trial judge in Clark County Superior Court.

Dole and his wife Carrie are involved in a divorce proceeding, with one of the issues being whether the money Scott won on the television show was community property, and, therefore, be subject to the Washington state’s community-property law mandating equal separation of assets.

The husband and wife went to trial on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 before Clark County Superior Court Judge James Rulli. Testimony took most of the day.

Rulli decided that even though Carrie Dole had filed for divorce well before the show, the couple were reconciled at the time of filming, so the winnings were community property.

“This property was acquired when he won the game show in October 2009. At that time, the parties were living together as husband and wife,” the judge said after the trial. “She flew with him and stayed with him at a hotel. The argument that it was a defunct marriage … is not the telling factor.”

Rulli’s decision splits the jackpot down the middle. The money, which has been in escrow since 2009, will be disbursed to Scott Dole and Carrie Dole in two weeks, once the paperwork is finalized, Rulli said.

Scott Dole did say he tried to show at trial that his former wife was indebted to him because of a large monetary gift his late father gave the couple, which they had used to purchase a house.

A month after the game show win, the couple separated, and Carrie Dole moved out and renewed her petition for dissolution. With the renewed petition came the request that the “Wheel of Fortune” winnings be placed into a trust pending the outcome of the divorce. The money, which is $46,988 after taxes, was then placed in escrow at a local bank.

The take away lesson is: what you earn (or win) during the term of your marriage in Washington state is considered community property, in which each spouse has an equal right to such proceeds.