Like any kind of addiction, gambling can add both financial and emotional stress to a marriage. In some cases this stress can cause the breakup of a relationship, and as the spouse of a gambling addict, it’s important to understand the challenges that may come along with a divorce.
The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) reports that about one percent of American adults have a severe gambling problem. They also observe this addiction is similar to alcohol and drug dependence in that the individual needs “needs to gamble more money to achieve the desired excitement” and displays “symptoms of withdrawal if gambling [is] stopped or reduced; and [the] inability to stop or reduce gambling.”
About one-third of people with gambling problems may recover on their own without formal treatment. However, experts note that people with pathological gambling problems are more likely to be divorced and have greater family dysfunction.
Are you wondering if your spouse has a gambling problem? Unsure of what to do next? Keep reading.
Recognizing signs of a gambling addiction
The Mayo Clinic recognizes compulsive gambling as a disorder, calling it a “serious addiction that can destroy lives.” They list signs and symptoms that signify when gambling has become a problem, including:
- Preoccupation with gambling and how to get more money
- Needing to gamble higher amounts to get the same thrills
- Trying unsuccessfully to stop gambling
- Gambling to escape feelings of anxiety, helplessness, or depression
- Gambling to attempt to win back lost money (“chasing losses”)
- Lying to loved ones about the extent of losses
- Putting important relationships, school, or job in jeopardy because of gambling
- Stealing or lying to get money for gambling
These problems can worsen over time as a person continually tries to recover lost money. Although most people who visit casinos or play the lottery never develop a gambling addiction, some people are more vulnerable. Experts aren’t sure why, but believe biological and environmental factors could play a part.
How compulsive gambling affects a marriage
Compulsive gambling often affects a relationship in much the same way as alcohol, drugs, or even adultery. Spouses face dishonesty, financial issues, and other marital stressors stemming from the other spouse’s behavior. Gambling addiction can destroy trust, cause your spouse to choose gambling over the family, and devastate your finances. You may find your marriage under emotional and monetary strain.
Is gambling grounds for divorce?
Here in Maryland, compulsive gambling is not listed specifically as grounds for divorce. However, depending on the seriousness and extent of your spouse’s behavior, it may fall under one of the existing grounds like “Cruelty or vicious conduct,” “Criminal conviction,” or “Insanity.” Experienced attorneys can guide you on the right path for your personal situation.
Am I responsible for my spouse’s gambling debts?
During a divorce, you and your spouse go through what’s called asset division, where you will split up your marital property. Marital property does include debt, and this is where things can get complicated. Generally, the court assigns an equitable division of property and debt, but in cases where one spouse commits financial malfeasance or wastes marital assets, they may handle it differently.
If your spouse amassed a substantial amount of debt due to their gambling addiction during your marriage, you may be able to argue to the court that you are not responsible for those debts. For example, if you and your spouse have a joint credit line with a large amount of gambling-related debt, you may not be responsible for paying it off. If the total amount of debt is $50,000 but $45,000 of that is from your spouse’s gambling debt – and you did not consent to those gambling activities – you may only be liable for the remaining $5,000 of debt.
In other cases, you may be awarded a greater share of marital property in order to make up for wasted or lost assets from your spouse’s gambling addiction.
Preparing to divorce a compulsive gambler
One of the most important things you can do if you’re thinking about divorcing a gambling addict is protecting your finances. Understanding the potential extent of their, and by extension your, losses will help during your first consultation with an attorney.
To prove wasteful use of marital assets, you need to collect as much documentation as you can. The more financial information you have, the easier it will be to prove that you should not be responsible for their debts. These documents can include:
- Basic family expenses
- Bank account statements
- Retirement and investment account statements
- Credit card balances and statements
- Mortgage and credit lines
- Property deeds
- Insurance policies
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Pre- or post-nuptial agreements
Your attorney can determine the extent as to which your spouse has affected your family’s finances and how much, if any, you should be responsible for during asset division. We also recommend taking a look at our blog, “Protecting Your Credit Score During a Divorce,” to safeguard your own financial future.
In the meantime, you may want to check out these resources for problem gamblers and their loved ones for further assistance:
- Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling
- National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)
- NCPG Counselor Search
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Problem Gambling Screening Tools
- Maryland Problem Gambling Services
The Rockville attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. can answer all of your questions about divorcing a problem gambler. We understand the financial complexities involved with this type of case and work to ensure marital assets are split fairly and you are not penalized for your spouse’s wrongful spending. If you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen and help. Set up a consultation today by calling 443-917-3347 or reaching out to us through our contact form. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Fulton, and Columbia.