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Who's Liable for Gambling Debts in a Divorce?

A husband accumulates thousands of dollars in gambling debt during a marriage, even though the Wife disapproves. Would the court still hold her to be liable for half of this obligation?

Let's face it. People accumulate a lot of "stuff" during a marriage. As co-owner of The Women's Law Group, a marital and family law firm in Carrollwood, many cases that I handle deal with equitable distribution of property, which is basically how a court divides a couple's assets and debts.  

As a general rule, if one party earns income during a marriage, it will be considered marital in nature, and both parties will be entitled to it.  If one party buys something or gets a loan during a marriage, this will also be considered marital, and both parties will be liable for it, even if one was not aware of the spending.

This general rule is exemplified by a recent case that I found to be most interesting.  In that case, a husband had apparently been gambling.  Not only was the wife not aware of this activity as it was happening, but she had previously indicated to the husband that she did not approve of it at all.  About two years before the marriage was ending, the husband had accumulated about $90,000 in gambling debt.  Of course, the wife did not want to be held liable for this.  Certainly, justice would not allow her to be held accountable for this, right?   Wrong.

The appellate court indicated that since there was no intentional misconduct of the husband, and it could not be shown that he was using funds for his own benefit and not for that of the marriage, then this was marital debt and had to be split between the parties.  As a result, the wife was going to be held responsible for half of the debt that husband accumulated.

Understandably, many consider this to be fundamentally unfair.  However, one must wonder what the court fight would have been, and how the parties' positions would have differed significantly, if the husband had actually won the same amount of money.  It is this thought that, in my opinion, demonstrates the reasoning behind, and the correctness of, the Court's opinion.

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Dean S. Robinson July 01, 2012 at 02:43 PM
$90K in gambling debt? Assuming we're not talking about multi-millionaires, this dollar value indicates someone who should have stepped away from the table some time back! However, I don't see where a gambling debt is significantly different than any debt (credit card, line of credit, etc.), so although it is a debt for which there is nothing to show (e.g. car, boat, vacation memories), it is a debt that needs to be repaid. Under the existing law, if we're going to split the proceeds from gambling we have to split the debt as well, unpleasant as that may be.

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