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Divorce and gambling addiction: the issues explained

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With the prevalence of online gambling sites over recent years, it should come as no surprise that, alongside that increase, more people are becoming addicted and falling deep into debt. In the UK, 65% of marriages where one party has a gambling problem end in divorce, and highlight the fact that it can be a major contributing factor to the breakdown of relationships.

All too often, gambling addiction is only exposed after it has wrecked the family’s finances, and relationships have cracked under the pressure. Until an addict admits they have a problem, they are unlikely to change, and that may be relevant in dealing with family finances.

Can I be held jointly responsible for my spouses gambling debts?

An important consideration in establishing liability for any debt, including those arising from gambling, will be whether the debt they’ve run up is in their sole name. If they have set up accounts on online gambling sites, these will presumably be held in their sole name. Even if a spouse uses a joint bank account to pay for them, it is still possible to prove that it was their debt and not incurred to pay for something that benefitted the marriage.

When financial settlements are made by the court, it will usually share joint debts as well as joint assets. But where one party has run up gambling debts, the court can assign a specific debt to an individual.

Evidence of gambling behaviour should be collected, including details of online accounts, activity records, and bank or credit card statements.

Will my spouse have to disclose their gambling within the divorce proceedings?

Each spouse has a duty to the court to make full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. The potential consequences for failing to do so can be severe, and may be considered as litigation misconduct. This behaviour allows the court to draw adverse inferences from the non-disclosure.

As stated above, a spouse may wish to introduce the issue of financial conduct into the proceedings. And whilst the court will look at all the facts when deciding who gets what, conduct is rarely relevant within proceedings.

Will I get a larger financial settlement than my gambler spouse?

It depends on the extent to which a spouse’s gambling has depleted your joint matrimonial assets. Under section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, it could be considered as financial misconduct, but this would need to be considered as “extreme or substantial” and inequitable to disregard. Any such behaviour must be “gross and obvious” and that a right-minded member of society deemed was of a level to justify a reduction or extinction of claims. This being the case, it is likely that it will be taken into account in a financial settlement and reduce your spouse’s share of the remaining assets.

However, a court needs to be satisfied that there has been “wanton dissipation of assets” in order to punish an individual for their gambling behaviour. Gambling losses can therefore be considered by the court, where it has the ability to add-back assets that have been dissipated, but this very much depends on the facts of the case and the presence/value of other matrimonial assets.

If the gambler has not committed any criminal acts, but has sought help and admitted a problem, then the court may be more understanding.

How can I protect myself from a gambling spouse?

Here are our suggestions for protecting yourself from a gambling spouse:

  • Ensure you have access to all your financial accounts online. This allows you to keep up to date with withdrawals and balances. Think about setting account notifications on your phone that let you know when any changes occur on the account.
  • Don’t let your spouse have your bank account details, passwords, or login details. Chances are your spouse knows your bank card details and can use them to finance the gambling. Getting new cards and keeping the details secret reduces that possibility
  • Don’t lend your spouse money. This enables the addict to continue their gambling habit.
  • Take control over your finances, make sure to close any joint accounts and separate your bank accounts going forward. You must be the only person who has access to your money.
  • Change passwords, update the passwords for your online banking or other payment methods
  • Don’t take out any joint credit cards, loans, or bank accounts
  • Don’t pay your gambling spouse’s debt. Compulsive gamblers are constantly chasing money to gamble with. If you try to help them by paying their debt, you demonstrate there is a way to continue gambling.

How do I recognise a gambling addict?

If you suspect your spouse has a gambling addiction, it is important to be aware of the signs. The following may be visible signs of a gambling problem:

  • Loss of control and inability to manage impulsive urges to gamble. They constantly relive past gambling glory wins, and each time you turn around, they are on their laptop or phone, placing bets or playing games. Instant and constant access makes it incredibly difficult to quit.
  • Your spouse will probably attempt to conceal their gambling by hiding receipts or bank statements. They may lie about where they are going to avoid being questioned or accused of gambling.
  • Despite escalating finances worries, they are unable to stop the urge to continue gambling. They may also believe that gambling will solve their financial problems and continue to gamble money away in the belief that the big win is on the next spin.
  • A person with a gambling addiction may experience problems at work, have issues maintaining relationships, and may have given up other hobbies and activities to devote their time to gambling.
  • People with a gambling addiction usually need other people to fund their gambling habit. They may commit fraud or steal money and items to sell.
  • If someone expresses guilt or remorse about a gambling activity, but still cannot quit, this may be a sign they have a problem.

What support is available for gambling addicts?

The National Gambling Helpline is operated by GamCare and offers confidential advice, support, and information on problem gambling. They are open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year over the phone or via Live Chat. Alternatively, the National Gambling Clinic is part of the National Gambling Treatment Service and is jointly commissioned by GambleAware and NHS England.

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