A woman and her money are soon parted

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The Independent Culture
IF IT'S any consolation to Denise Rossi, the woman ordered by a California judge to hand over her $1.3m (pounds 800,000) lottery jackpot to her ex-husband for failing to declare it in the divorce courts, it won't make him happy. Honestly it won't.

I'll send Mrs Rossi cuttings of all those newspaper articles earlier this week about the survey they've just done on lottery winners. If you remember, they were asked whether winning millions had changed their lives, and while most of them said they were better off materially, none of them said they were any happier.

If Mrs Rossi had been honest, the judge said, and told the court about her jackpot, she would have been allowed to keep half. Big deal. What irritates me is the assumption on the judge's part that Mrs Rossi's prize (she bought the ticket herself) should automatically be shared with a husband she was already supporting financially because he was unemployed. If instead of $1.3m she'd won a luxury holiday for two in Mauritius would the judge have ordered her to take her layabout husband along too?

There must be one or two things in a marriage a wife can call her own. Lingerie, perfume, goldfish - do they all have to be equally divided? We're getting into dangerous, King Solomon territory here.

I know I would have been devastated when I got divorced if my ex-husband had wanted to keep the cat. He had given it to me as a birthday present, so technically I suppose he could have claimed it. Fortunately, for me and the cat, my first husband jumped ship, gave up his job and left home to run international marathons full time. Having to pack Anna the Siamese cat, of whom incidentally he was extremely fond, along with his trainers, shorts and steroids, would have been a considerable inconvenience.

If Aesop were around today he would have written a fable about the Rossis called something like the Rat and the Budgie, with the moral being "easy come easy go", or "a man and his money are soon parted". Correction. "A woman and her money are soon parted." In my experience sudden wealth rarely does anyone much good. Let me give you two examples.

The first is about a Russian couple we first met in St Petersburg eight years ago. Sergei made air-conditioning equipment for factories, Irina was a maths teacher, and they were very, very poor. When they visited us in London they lived on Spam and walked everywhere because they couldn't afford the bus fares.

Three years ago Sergei and Irina came to visit us again. Everything had changed thanks to perestroika. It was like winning the lottery. Sergei, looking like the archetypal Mafia boss in dark glasses and a camel-hair coat, arrived at the door with a bottle of champagne. Irina, he said, was shopping, and would come later. They were staying in the Dorchester and their daughter, whom I remembered as a pale, skinny schoolgirl, was now at university in California.

And were they happy? No. Natasha had just called to say she liked California better than St Petersburg and wasn't coming back.

The second story concerns a fellow-student at my bicycle-maintenance evening class, who mentioned casually the other day that a neighbour on her Hackney housing estate had won the lottery.

Good heavens, I said, how much? Three million, said Sarah. I tried to imagine what it would be like to win pounds 3m. "The funny thing," said Sarah, "is that her boyfriend, who had walked out on her six weeks before, rang her up and said maybe they could make a go of things after all." She didn't take him back, did she, I asked. Yes she did, said Sarah. They bought a house in Weybridge, a flat in Marbella, two Range Rovers and a home cinema. Then he walked out on her taking the rest of the money with him.

What a meal Aesop would have made of those two tales.