Handling Divorce When Your Spouse Is Addicted to Gambling

Handling Divorce When Your Spouse Is Addicted to GamblingAddiction, no matter the form, adds both emotional and financial strain to a relationship. When one spouse has a problem with gambling, for example, they may lie to cover up their financial losses or trips to the racetrack. Besides causing a rift in the marriage, a gambling addiction can also bring unique challenges during a divorce. If your spouse has a gambling problem, it may help to have a thorough understanding of the situation.

You’re not alone

According to the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), about one percent of American adults have a severe gambling disorder. Other terms are gambling addiction, pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, or problem gambling. However, the wording doesn’t matter – if it’s causing life issues, it’s a problem. The NCRG notes that gambling addiction is similar to that of alcohol or drug dependence in that the person has an ever-increasing tolerance.

For example, a problem gambler “needs to gamble more money to achieve the desired excitement,” will show “symptoms of withdrawal if gambling [is] stopped or reduced,” and has an “inability to stop or reduce gambling.”

Although around one-third of people with gambling addiction can recover on their own, the NCRG also reports that 96.3 percent of lifetime pathological gamblers also meet the criteria for one or more other psychiatric disorders.

Next, we’ll talk about the signs and symptoms of gambling problems and what to do if you think your spouse is an addict.

What does a gambling addiction look like?

Recognized as a disorder by the Mayo Clinic, compulsive gambling is “the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on your life…[meaning] you’re willing to risk something you value in the hope of getting something of even greater value.”

They note signs to look out for that signify gambling has become a serious problem. Does your spouse:

  • Have a preoccupation with gambling and how to get more money?
  • Need to gamble with higher and higher amounts to get the same excitement?
  • Try unsuccessfully to stop gambling?
  • Gamble to escape their problems?
  • Chase losses (continually try to win back lost money)?
  • Lie about the extent of their losses?
  • Put their relationships, job, or school in jeopardy because of gambling?
  • Lie, cheat, or steal to get gambling money?
  • Ask others to bail them out of their losses?

A gambling addiction can snowball over time as a person continues the cycle of chasing losses.

Even though most people can bet on the horses or play the lottery and never develop a gambling problem, some people are just more vulnerable. Says the Mayo Clinic, “Exactly what causes someone to gamble compulsively isn’t well-understood. Like many problems, compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors.”

Problem gambling can destroy a marriage

Just like drugs, alcohol, or adultery, gambling addiction can fracture your relationship, sometimes in unrepairable ways. You may face dishonesty, financial losses, and other marital stress that you didn’t expect when you married your spouse. Compulsive gambling can lead to destruction of trust, devastate your savings and your credit, and make you feel like your spouse chose gambling over your family. You may feel like divorce is your only option – and that’s okay. An experienced Maryville family law attorney can help you evaluate your options.

Is gambling grounds for divorce in Tennessee?

Gambling isn’t specifically listed as grounds for divorce in Tennessee. However, if your spouse’s addictive behavior constitutes “cruel and inhuman treatment,” commits a felony due to their gambling, or otherwise makes your married life intolerable, you may have grounds for divorce. Your attorney can talk to you about your individual situation to guide you toward the right solution.

What about my spouse’s gambling debts? Will I be responsible?

Division of assets is the process of splitting up marital property, which includes both assets and debts. Everything accumulated during your marriage is considered marital property, and that includes the accumulation of debt. When assigning marital property, the court uses equitable division – not necessarily 50/50, but a reasonable and fair split.

However, in cases where one spouse has secretly or recklessly wasted marital assets, the court may take a second look. Your attorney may argue that you are not responsible for gambling debts your spouse accrued during the marriage. Let’s look at a possible example. Say you and your spouse have a joint line of credit with $25,000 of debt and your spouse’s gambling debts make up $20,000 of that debt. If you didn’t consent (or were unaware) of their gambling activities, your attorney can argue that you should only be liable for the remaining $5,000 of non-gambling-related debt.

The court may award you a greater share of marital property or other creative solutions to make up for wasted and lost assets due to a spouse’s compulsive gambling.

How do I divorce a problem gambler?

If you’re planning on divorcing a spouse with a gambling addiction, prioritize protecting your finances. Many addicts will go above and beyond to hide the extent of their problem and losses, and your first step should be understanding the full magnitude of the issue.

In order to demonstrate waste of marital assets, try to collect as much documentation and evidence as you can. The more financial statements and proof you have, the easier time you’ll have showing the court that you shouldn’t be responsible for your spouse’s gambling-related debts. When you meet with your attorney, bring information like:

  • Your credit report (use a service that provides free access)
  • Bank account statements for the past few years
  • A list of monthly family expenses
  • Pay stubs for both spouses, if applicable
  • Any retirement/investment account statements
  • Credit card balances and statements
  • Mortgage and credit line statements
  • Tax returns for the past few years
  • Property deeds
  • Copies of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements

Your attorney and expert financial consultants can work to determine the scope and extent to which your spouse’s addiction has negatively affected your household finances. Then, you can get started on planning a safer and more secure economic future for you and your children.

Our attorneys also offer these outside resources for problem gamblers and affected friends and family:

The Maryville family law attorneys at Shepherd & Long, PC can answer your questions about the divorce process and help put your mind at ease. We advocate for you and your children, providing guidance about next steps and setting you up for a more certain future. To schedule an appointment, call us at 865-982-8060 or fill out our contact form. We serve clients throughout East Tennessee and Blount County.