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. 

If you are living with someone with a gambling addiction, you know firsthand how it has affected your marriage. You may even be tempted to seek a divorce because of it. 

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.

Compulsive gambling affects the brain’s reward chemistry in similar ways to drugs and alcohol, and people who are addicted to gambling need progressively more risk to achieve the same kind of “high.” Gambling addicts can even experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to reduce or stop their behavior. 

Signs that someone has a gambling problem can 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
  • Trying to stop unsuccessfully
  • Using gambling as an escape from feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Continuing to gamble 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, but it seems that some people are more vulnerable to gambling addiction, and addiction in general, than others. 

How gambling addiction affects a marriage

Gambling addictions can affect a marriage in much the same way that other addictions do. 

Marriage demands a great deal of trust between partners. Unfortunately, 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 to gamble, risking both their spouse’s trust and the family’s marital funds. Compulsive gamblers can even go so far as choosing 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 are often left to pick up the slack, financially and otherwise, caused by their spouse’s gambling.

Is gambling a reason for divorce?

Can you use a gambling addiction as grounds for divorce when you live in an at-fault divorce state?

Grounds for divorce vary by state, but no state specifically names gambling addiction as grounds, or fault, for divorce. Still, many spouses of compulsive gamblers seek a divorce because of it.

Every state has some form of no-fault divorce option available to people seeking a divorce. A no-fault divorce allows 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. Notably, this property division 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 your spouse’s gambling behavior has affected your current financial picture. 

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.

One spouse’s gambling addiction can threaten the emotional, financial, and physical well-being of the other spouse as well as the children.

What should I do to protect myself and my 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. While you understand that gambling disorder is an addiction, they need to take responsibility for themselves and what they’re doing to your family and marital estate. 

Get help for yourself as well. 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. 

What is 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%. 

If you’ve made the decision to divorce your spouse because of a gambling addiction, there may be some unique financial and emotional complexities to address as part of your divorce process. At Hello Divorce, we offer legal advice and professional services to help you make the right decisions for yourself and your family. Schedule a free phone call to understand your options. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.