Are Gambling and Excessive Drinking Grounds for Divorce?
Sadly many marriages fail as a result of addiction. Two of the most common types of addiction which result in divorce are alcohol and gambling.
Although it is sometimes possible to overcome addiction and save the relationship, often there is a breaking point at which divorce becomes inevitable.
Alcoholism and Divorce
Alcohol misuse is a very loaded and subjective term. It’s difficult for one spouse to prove that their partner has a drinking problem as this will often simply be denied.
A couple of glasses of wine with dinner every evening may be viewed as moderate drinking by one person, but is classed as excessive drinking by someone else.
In the context of marriage, the drinking habits of either spouse might not be an issue on their own, but if a relationship starts to fail – for whatever reason – alcohol consumption will sometimes be identified as the culprit.
It’s often a case of ‘chicken and egg’ because if there is a problem at home, some people are prone to turn to the bottle – which can serve to exacerbate relationship problems and leads to a vicious cycle.
Gambling and Divorce
Although the effects of irresponsible gambling within a marriage are different from alcoholism, the impact of addictive risk-taking can be similarly devastating.
There is the additional aspect of monetary loss which can cause financial hardship for both parties, especially when they share bank accounts. Even relatively minor gambling can lead to arguments which may then escalate and eventually lead to the breakdown of the marriage.
Just as with drinking, it can be very difficult to reach a consensus about what constitutes problematic gambling. One person may find it perfectly acceptable to have a weekly flutter on the horses, whereas any form of gambling might be anathema to someone else.
Are excessive drinking or gambling grounds for divorce?
There is only one valid reason or ‘ground’ for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. In order to prove that a marriage has irretrievably broken down, currently one of the following five ‘facts’ must be given to initiate the divorce petition:
- Unreasonable behaviour;
- Living apart for more than two years (with agreement); or
- Living apart for more than five years (without agreement).
Although excessive drinking or gambling, in its own right, is not one of the five ‘facts’ which can be used to prove the ground for divorce (ie irretrievable breakdown of marriage), it can constitute the second fact on this list, namely ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
In a contested divorce, it may be necessary to prove that excessive drinking or gambling amounted to unreasonable behaviour.
It is worth noting that ‘no-fault divorce’ is currently planned to be introduced in England and Wales from autumn 2021.
This will dispense with the abovementioned five facts, replacing them with a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ which can be filed by either party. Also, it will also remove the ability to contest divorce.
How should gambling and excessive drinking be worded in a divorce petition?
When applying for divorce using the fact of unreasonable behaviour, it will generally be necessary to write a few examples of the type of behaviour which was considered unreasonable. If drinking and/or gambling are cited as the examples, the type of wording used could be:
- The Respondent started drinking excessively in January 2020 which made the Petitioner feel uncomfortable.
- The Respondent spent £1,000 in casinos since March 2020 which caused financial hardship for the Petitioner.
For more information on wording examples of unreasonable behaviour, see our previous article.
Can gambling and excessive drinking affect a divorce settlement?
Unreasonable behaviour will not generally be considered by the court in terms of calculating how the matrimonial pot should be divided.
Having said that, financial misconduct is more likely to be taken into account than personal misconduct – and excessive gambling, or indeed spending vast sums of money on alcohol, could potentially become relevant. This is due to section 25 (2)(g) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which states that the court should have regard to “the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it”.
But in practice, the court will be reluctant to penalise the party accused of excessive drinking or gambling, because these behaviours are increasingly viewed as addictions. The 2015 case of MAP v MFP  EWHC 627 (Fam) highlights this reluctance.
In this case, the husband allegedly spent £6,000 per week on alcohol and other drugs, but the court did not adjust the final settlement to take account of an estimated £250,000 spent on his addictive habits, or £230,000 used to try and rectify it in rehab.
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