Divorcing a Gambling Addict: What You Should Know

close up of someone holding cards with a large amount of chips in front of them - divorcing a gambling addict concept

Recent changes in Michigan’s gambling laws have made it even easier for those with gambling addictions to lose money on bad bets through online gambling and mobile gambling apps. The financial crisis created when a gambling addiction spins out of control can easily lead to divorce. If you find yourself divorcing a gambling addict, there are some things you should know to protect yourself and the assets you have left.

Gambling Debts and Divorce: Will You Have to Pay Your Spouse’s Bets?

When gambling leads to divorce the non-betting spouse often faces the real concern that they will be forced to pay for their spouse’s bets. Many gamblers use joint debit and credit cards to pay for their addiction, wracking up thousands of dollars in gambling debts in their spouses’ names.

Fortunately, Michigan is an equitable property distribution state. Michigan family courts are not required to divide assets and debts 50/50 based on what is left when the judgment is entered. Instead, they can divide assets based on what is fair and equitable considering the circumstances. You still may not get as much as you might like – it is rare for a property division to shift beyond a more equal split. However, the law does allow you and your divorce attorney to present evidence of your spouse’s gambling addiction and have it considered as fault for the division of property.

Are You Married to a Gambling Addict?

It may be hard to tell if your spouse has a gambling problem. Not all betting is a gambling addiction. Most gamblers are able to stop when they hit their limit. But some can’t. In addition, like other forms of addiction, people who are addicted to gambling often conceal their activities out of fear or shame. According to the Mayo Clinic, your spouse might suffer from compulsive gambling if they:

  • Become preoccupied with gambling activities and thoughts of how to get more gambling money
  • Keep increasing the amount they bet to get the same thrill
  • Are unable to cut back or stop gambling
  • Get irritable or restless at the thought of reducing gambling
  • Turn to gambling apps or venues to relieve stress, guilt, anxiety, or depression
  • Chase their losses, betting more to try to win back lost money
  • Lie or hide gambling losses
  • Risk losing jobs, failing classes, or destroying relationships over gambling
  • Ask friends and family for money

Protective Steps to Take When Divorcing a Gambling Addict

A gambling addiction won’t stop just because you separate from your spouse. In fact, it may increase because your spouse is free from your limiting influence and feeling anxious about the divorce itself. As the non-betting spouse, you need to do everything you can to protect the assets you have left while the divorce is pending. This means getting a court order allowing you to:

  • Move the direct deposit of your payroll to an account in your name only
  • Take valuable items with you if you move out of the marital home so they can’t be pawned or sold
  • Put a hold on joint credit cards
  • Freeze your credit to avoid new accounts being opened in your name
  • Get a temporary restraining order limiting the use of funds for non-marital expenses
  • Hold proceeds from the sale of marital property (such as your home) in trust with your attorney until the judgment is entered

Admittedly, some of these steps will make it harder for you to pay your own expenses during the divorce, and can look as though you are hiding assets. This is why you should not transfer any joint assets from shared accounts into accounts held in your name only without a court order. You and your attorney should also be upfront about where any assets are being held, and fully disclose their balances, so that the judge will not interpret your protective steps as an effort to conceal assets yourself. To the extent possible, you should try and obtain a court order to preserve the marital estate and give you clearance to take necessary steps.

Following the Money: How to Find Where Gambling Money Goes

When divorcing a gambling addict, you will need to be prepared to demonstrate when, how, and to what extent your spouse has squandered marital assets. This often requires you to “follow the money” – tracing withdrawals from bank accounts and credit card charges back to casinos, race tracks, and online gambling apps.

That makes discovery especially important in gambling addiction divorces. Discovery is the process that lawyers of all kinds use to gather evidence to support their position at trial. It can include:

  • Interrogatories (questions) to the other side about how money is spent
  • Demands for production of documents from the other side such as gambling receipts
  • Depositions, where your spouse will have to answer questions about their betting
  • Subpoenas for records from banks, casinos, and gambling companies

In March 2020, Michigan legalized sports betting and online betting. Since that time, many gambling addicts have taken to using many different gambling platforms to satisfy their urges. This makes discovery harder. You won’t be able to find everything by subpoenaing your local casino. Instead, your lawyer may have to get lists of the gaming apps your spouse uses through interrogatories or a deposition, and then send subpoenas to multiple game companies to trace multiple micro-transactions that add up to thousands of dollars of gambling debts.

All this discovery takes time, and it could delay the resolution of your case. If you believe you are divorcing a gambling addict, it is important to tell your attorney right away, so that they can begin the discovery process and bring on a financial forensic expert if necessary.

Getting a Fair Property Division When Divorcing a Gambling Addict

If your spouse has a gambling habit, it is likely that they have dissipated marital assets to satisfy their urge to place bets. Michigan law allows judges to count property improperly concealed or dissipated by one spouse as part of the marital estate, and credit some or all of the amounts already lost toward your spouse’s share. This results in the potential that you may receive a larger amount of whatever is left at the time of divorce.

But you have to be able to prove your losses. This is where all that discovery comes in. You and your divorce attorney will need to prove to the court how much money your spouse spent on their gambling addiction and where that money came from. This may involve hiring a forensic accountant to compile all the information obtained from the different casinos, banks, and gambling apps. The more financial information you have, the easier it will be for you to prove dissipation of marital assets.

At NSSSB, our divorce attorneys know up-to-date divorce discovery techniques to uncover a spouse’s hidden gambling addiction. We know how to identify, document, and prove dissipated assets to argue for a fair division of our clients assets and debts. Our Southeast Michigan family law attorneys are happy to review your case and help you create a clear picture of your finances and family situation for the court. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.