Gambling Addiction and Divorce
While most of us are familiar with alcohol and drug addiction, gambling addiction gets far less attention. And yet, a gambling addiction can affect marriage and family in similar ways to drug and alcohol abuse.
Warning Signs of Gambling Addiction
According to the Mayo Clinic, compulsive gambling is the uncontrollable urge to engage in gambling activities even though it causes great harm. Just like drugs and alcohol, compulsive gambling affects the brain’s reward chemistry, leading individuals to seek progressively more risk to achieve the same kind of “high.” Additionally, gambling addicts may experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop their gambling behavior.
Some common signs that someone may have a gambling problem include:
- A preoccupation with gambling outlets and money to gamble.
- Constantly thinking of ways to get more money to feed their ever-increasing need to gamble.
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling.
- Using gambling as an escape from feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Continuously gambling to “win back” lost money.
- Lying to others about gambling losses.
- Letting gambling affect important responsibilities and relationships.
- Seeking the help of others to get out of the financial problems caused by their gambling.
Experts are unsure why some people are more vulnerable to gambling addiction than others.
How Gambling Addiction Affects a Marriage
Gambling addictions can impact a marriage in much the same way that other addictions do. Marriage requires a great deal of trust between partners, but when one spouse suffers from a gambling addiction, it often results in serial dishonesty, large financial losses, significant debt, and other marital stressors. A gambling addiction can push someone toward risky behaviors to get the money needed to continue gambling, risking both their spouse’s trust and the family’s marital funds. Compulsive gamblers may even prioritize their gambling compulsions over the people they love.
Studies have found that spouses of gamblers are more likely to experience domestic violence and harassment from people their spouse owes, and they are often left to pick up the financial and emotional slack caused by their spouse’s gambling.
Is Gambling a Reason for Divorce?
Can a gambling addiction be used as grounds for divorce in an at-fault divorce state?
While grounds for divorce vary by state, no state specifically names gambling addiction as grounds for divorce. However, many spouses of compulsive gamblers seek a divorce because of it.
Every state has some form of no-fault divorce option available, allowing one spouse to seek divorce from the other without having to prove fault. All states require divorcing couples to divide marital property fairly as part of their divorce settlement, which includes marital debt. If your spouse has amassed a large amount of debt due to their gambling addiction, you may be responsible for a portion of that debt unless you can prove how their gambling behavior has affected your current financial situation.
If you’re considering a divorce from a gambling addict, it may be helpful to first collect any financial information and documentation that might prove the wasteful use of marital assets by your spouse.
Protecting Yourself and Your Kids
If you suspect your spouse is a compulsive gambler, your first concern should be to protect yourself and your kids financially. Until your spouse gets help or can be trusted with your finances, you don’t want them to have access to shared accounts or assets. Consider taking the following steps:
- Removing your spouse’s name from any accounts or financial assets, if possible.
- Cutting up credit cards.
- Changing passwords and PINs on accounts.
- Removing your spouse’s name as the beneficiary from your life insurance policy and any other accounts.
- Freezing your credit with all three credit reporting agencies to ensure that your spouse is not opening new accounts.
- Not paying any of their gambling debts out of your joint or personal account.
Talk with your spouse about their addiction, as they need to take responsibility for themselves and their actions affecting the family and marital estate.
Seek Help and Support
Dealing with an addicted spouse can be isolating and overwhelming. Although it isn’t your fault, you may have inadvertently become codependent and adapted to their behavior instead of working to prevent it. There are many organizations that can offer you support. For instance, the National Council on Problem Gambling offers a help hotline that can be reached at 1-800-GAMBLER.
Seeking a professional therapist who specializes in addiction can also be helpful to understand and navigate your spouse’s gambling addiction.
The Divorce Rate for Gambling Addiction
A large percentage of problem and pathological gamblers end up in divorce court. According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission and the Gambling Impact and Behavior Study, divorce rates for problem gamblers hover around 40%, and divorce rates for pathological gamblers are approximately 54%.
Gambling addiction can have devastating effects on marriages and families. It can erode trust, cause financial distress, and lead to emotional and physical harm. While divorce might be a consideration for some spouses, seeking help and support is crucial for both the individual struggling with addiction and the affected family members. Understanding the warning signs, protecting finances, seeking therapy, and accessing support services can play a significant role in coping with this challenging situation.
- Can gambling addiction be grounds for divorce? While no state specifically names gambling addiction as grounds for divorce, many spouses of compulsive gamblers seek a divorce due to its impact on the marriage.
- How does gambling addiction affect a marriage? Gambling addiction can lead to serial dishonesty, significant financial losses, debt, and marital stressors. It can push individuals to engage in risky behaviors and prioritize gambling over their loved ones.
- What should I do to protect myself and my kids from a gambling addict spouse? Take steps like removing their name from accounts, cutting up credit cards, changing passwords, and freezing credit. Seek professional help and support services.
- What is the divorce rate for gambling addiction? Divorce rates for problem gamblers are around 40%, while rates for pathological gamblers are approximately 54%.
- Where can I get help for dealing with a spouse’s gambling addiction? The National Council on Problem Gambling offers a help hotline at 1-800-GAMBLER, and seeking a therapist specializing in addiction can also be beneficial.