Episode 57 – Betting Against the House: When Gambling Threatens Marriage

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  2. Episode 57 – Betting Against the House: When Gambling Threatens Marriage
A side view of a man holding a smartphone with online sports betting app and cheering. | New Direction Family Law

Ex-It Strategy
Podcast Episode 57

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Sarah Hink and Jen Bordeaux

Sarah: Good day. My name is Sarah Hink. I’m one of the experienced attorneys of New Direction Family Law, and one of the partners. I am missing today, my law partner, Elizabeth Stevenson, who you usually hear on here with me, but we have Jen Bordeaux in the podcast studio today. Who is often, well, you’re always with us.

Jen: Yes, I pipe in every once in a while. 

Sarah: Then when me and Elizabeth are busy out doing trial prep or in trial, then we have more of Jen, which is great because everyone loves some Jen. 

Jen: I don’t know. Jen doesn’t love some Jen sometimes, but good day! I like how you started that.

Sarah: Yes. British. Good day. We are recording from England. Jen’s accent is much better than mine. I cannot do one.

Jen: We are not British, but we sometimes get spam, this is completely off topic, but like spam emails that start off, like, “Greetings of the day” or “Good day.” And I’m like, yeah, spam. All right. But I do appreciate the pleasantries. 

Sarah: Yes. 

Jen: But what’s not so pleasant sometimes is what we’re gonna talk about today. And something recently in North Carolina, is we are in the thick of March Madness here. Go NCAA basketball. Woo. Yes. 

Sarah: Yes. NC State is in the Sweet 16, along with other triangle teams, UNC, Duke.

Jen: All of ’em.  So all you triangle fans out there listening, go us!

Sarah: Go us all. This will probably come out and one of those or three of those teams might not be in it anymore. 

Jen: Fair enough. But right now they are. And that’s all that matters. But in line with that, something else happened during March this year in that sports betting was officially legal and gambling in North Carolina effective March 11th of this year.

Sarah: Yes. Online sports betting. Which I guess that means you can’t, there’s not like casinos around the corner and whatnot. But there’s a lot of online gambling platforms out there, most centered around sports. I haven’t dabbled in it yet, so I don’t know too much, but I get the gist and like FanDuel or whatever. There’s lots of ways to bet on games, you know, kickoff, who’s gonna win the coin flip? Basketball, who gets the tip off, I guess. So that’s now legal in North Carolina, which can be a lot of fun for some people, but it’s also gonna be problematic for others.

Jen: Yeah, there’s definitely some addiction. Addiction looks and comes in many, many forms, right? And gambling is absolutely one of those you always hear about like the lottery or gambling, you know, about, you know, gambling hotlines and things like that. So it is absolutely a vice. It can, like you said, be great and be a lot of fun and generate sportsmanship and, you know, friendly competition, but it can absolutely be addictive and we’ve seen it not play out so well and negatively affect relationships, which brings in us, Sarah. How have you seen that in your cases? Well, 

Sarah: Well first of all, there’s an addiction aspect, which takes many forms. But second of all, this also encompasses, you know, financial issues. Finances alone before online gambling even became legal and capable in North Carolina, when some spouse is out there overspending or just not being smart with their money, you know, attempting to day trade and not making good decisions on the stock market, losing all the finances of the family. I mean, that’s problematic and really stresses out a relationship. I see it even more than affairs. Everyone always asks like, what’s the main reason for a divorce? Well, a lot of times it’s the financial issues.

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. So. What, how is that? You know, do, do people when potential clients, you know, then become clients and they’re working with you, or even in an initial consultation, potentially, do you see where they have a suspicion of gambling or they know they have hard evidence of gambling? Or is it like, I don’t know where this money’s going or how we’re in this financial situation and it’s uncovered later? 

Sarah: Yeah, both. Both, right? Because I mean, some people will travel to Las Vegas and obviously there’s gambling going on there and lose a lot of money. But there are marriages where people do not share financial information. There’s someone that has complete control and maybe there’s not a joint account set up. Or if there is, you know, one person that’s earning a substantial amount of money in the relationship puts some money into the joint account, but not all their money and the other spouse is completely in the dark. And that’s why it’s really important to have those conversations. If you don’t have a joint account, you know. And don’t see all the money spending, “Hey, what’s going on?” Let’s talk about this. I have, you know, some questions. I saw you on the couch all weekend on your phone and I, I mean, if someone’s online gambling, they’re probably gonna be making noises while they watch sports, right? Like, “Oh damn it, I missed it again.” And I was like, actually just picking up lunch the other day downtown, and I heard some guy on his cell phone being like, “Oh, I just laid on the couch and, you know, gambled all weekend.” Like literally said that. I’m like, whoa, his girlfriend, wife, if he has one…not gonna like that.

Jen: Nope. 

Sarah: So I mean, there’s little signs here and there, but if it’s a real issue, just like with alcoholics or drug users, they’re gonna try and hide it. So you really gotta be cognizant about what’s going on and like, if you see some mail come in that is from the bank or an account you didn’t know about, okay, well what’s this about? Open it. So you’re at your house, you can open it. And just have those open conversations. And if you don’t feel comfortable having an open conversation about finances and your relationship, well that’s a red flag in and of itself. It needs to change.

Jen: Absolutely. And we’ve talked about that from like the prenup aspect, and how it opens up these conversations, but beyond that, you know, getting into the marriage then, those are ongoing conversations to have because people change, behaviors change. And it’s still. We’ve been on this platform and every day in the office, you know, we are huge advocates of financial literacy. And knowing what’s going on with your finances. But we see it pretty much every single day that, you know, folks see from the time at initial consultation, you know, we ask about and, well, I don’t. You guys do as the attorney asks about, you know, the person coming to us and the opposing party about their income, and there’s so many times that the party that’s seeing us, they have no idea. That’s never been disclosed. Then it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around, because we are such big proponents of make sure you know, make sure, you know, but it is so, so common.

Sarah: These days, yeah. Ask about a credit number because nowadays your bank or your credit card’s gonna have a way to show you. It’s not like you have to like go run one yourself and like get points on it or what have you. Like, ask about it. What’s your, you know, credit score right now, honey? Let’s get that up. Like what if we wanted to buy a new house together, it’s gonna come out then. So just things like that. You gotta be able to talk about it. And I understand a lot of people these days don’t necessarily put all their money into an account. And there’s, you know, pros and cons for that. Me and Jamie, my husband, you know, we have one little account for like the kids stuff, but otherwise it’s all separate. But you gotta be able to talk about spending habits and things you do together versus whatcha gonna do with your income. This has to be open conversations. And so when it comes to these vices, I mean, it’s not just gonna be gambling that you’ll see on credit card statements or bank accounts. You know, if someone’s obviously taking out a lot of cash, where are they spending their cash? I mean, that’s the hardest one to really pin down. We were talking before we started about someone that called and said their spouse was seeking sexual intercourse online, or, I mean, I don’t know how ladies say it delicately.

Jen: Sex favors, paid sex favors.

Sarah: Yeah. And not to diminish that work, sex work is work, obviously. But that’s not something that you’re in agreement of, obviously either. So that’s gonna be a problem. And you see cash coming out, they don’t pay for sex workers via credit card, typically. So it’s gonna be really hard to track that down and prove it. But anything like that comes out in the divorce situation through the financial end, you know, equitable distribution. If there’s a credit card statement and there’s $20,000 on that balance, and 50% of that is from online gambling, well, okay. We were not okay with that. Spending that money for online gambling was not for the benefit of the family. Let’s carve that out. I don’t wanna have to pay 50% of that debt. You know? So there are ways to get around that through the separation and divorce process when you’re doing the financials. Same for, you know, spousal support. We look at regularly occurring expenses when determining someone’s ability to pay spousal support. While, you know, spending $3,000 a month on online gambling, that’s not gonna be okay in the court’s eyes. So you need to pay three thousand to your wife or your husband, your ex before you start online gambling with your money. So it is taken into consideration, but a lot of times you get into a hole that’s really hard to dig yourself out of.

Jen: I know that we’ve had other scenarios where I think one spouse, like they see the detriment or like the money that’s going out. But they don’t know where it’s going. And I’ve seen instances where the non spending spouse will say, or non gambling spouse, whatever, will kind of bail them out. But it’s getting so bad to where it’s like effectively the mortgage isn’t being paid. You know? And like any other addiction, you’re putting other things above these other responsibilities and necessities. And the spouse that came to us, I mean, had been bailing out the other spending spouse for a while now. And to the point where the attorney was like, I almost think they have a whole separate life. Like just given the fact, you know, what information was presented in the consultation. So it can, I don’t know, like you said, it could just snowball so quickly. 

Sarah: It does snowball and people lie, you know, your spouse is going to lie to you. If they haven’t already, they might in the future, even if it’s a good relationship. And, especially when it comes to issues like gambling. You know, “Oh yeah, I gamble online, but it’s not a problem.” And then they’ll start like hiding it from you and not watching the games in front of you or whatever. But if they’re on their phone and reacting, then you can know something then. But it does present itself as an addiction to some degree. I mean, just like alcohol, drugs, it can just get out of hand. So it’s something for everyone in North Carolina to watch out for.

Jen: And so if somebody comes to you when they’re suspecting this, or as you know, we get in depth with the financials and there may not be a hundred percent pinpoint, but like, how do you start to try to go down that tunnel to figure out what’s happening to this money? Or spending? To be able to identify it, that it is gambling that was not to the benefit of the marriage?

Sarah: Well, at that point in time, we need to, you know, get the financials and get the statements. If we’re in court, we have subpoena power, issue discovery, to get our hands on all those statements, and you have to really go through them because maybe they have an account you don’t know about. So are you seeing the bank account paying for a Chase card? And you didn’t know there was a Chase credit card and I didn’t give you those statements. What’s that about? But also if there’s a Chase credit card out there with $30,000 on the balance and they don’t present it well, then they’re not gonna get equitable distribution of it either, and they’re gonna have to take that debt and pay it for themselves. So it’s, it’s definitely just taking the time to look through everything at that, at that point. If you’re still in the relationship, then obviously it’s up to that person to decide if they wanna separate and go down the course of the separation and divorce and all that. Ask them about it. Look at it if you wanna stay in your relationship, but the other person’s gambling a lot, then you can look at it like a postnup like we’ve talked about before. And establishing like, okay, if you’re gonna online gamble, then your stuff is gonna be your separate stuff and my stuff’s gonna be my separate stuff and I’m not ever gonna be liable for your gambling habit and otherwise we still love each other. Great. We can help you there. 

Jen: Yeah, definitely. Both those avenues. And you, you mentioned earlier, sending out discovery. Can you break that down to layman’s terms for those of us that may not know what that means? 

Sarah: Discovery is, you know, questions on paper. It’s written questions, written answers. They come in three different forms. One, basically ask for documents, you know, provide all your credit card statements since January 1st, 2022 to present. And they have to give it over to us, basically. And some of them are written questions, you know, how many times have you gambled online in the last three months? Give me a date, time, and what platform, I guess. And other ones answer in the affirmative or you say yes or no, and admit that you spent $30,000 on online gambling in the year of 2023.

Jen: So if somebody comes in for initial consultation and they retain, and so do you just automatically send that out or does something have to be initiated in court? Like how does that happen to get, yeah, to do this discovery?

Sarah: You can only do discovery and issue subpoenas if you’re in court. If there’s been litigation filed, someone’s filed a complaint. Otherwise, if we’re trying to negotiate a separation agreement and there’s nothing filed in court, then it’s all, “Hey, will you please give me this stuff?” And they have to attempt to negotiate and give those documents in good faith. And if it gets to the point where they won’t give you things, then you really need them, then you have to go to court, unfortunately, to really get that power.

Jen: Yeah. So it can get pretty sticky and pretty messy and stressful and expensive. 

Sarah: Yes, it does. And it’s always like a benefit cost analysis of, you know, what statement do we think we’re missing? Do we think anything is out there? You know, are they actually going to participate in this process? We don’t wanna spend months and money on attorneys for it to go nowhere, just to end up in court. So sometimes you just gotta pull the trigger and just go ahead and get into litigation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t settle. 

Jen: Yeah. Absolutely. So, anything else around that? What if you have somebody that comes in to you and they are the one that has been gambling, they are the spouse that has been gambling. What would your potential approach be?

Sarah: Well, you know, what point is it at? Is it an addiction? Then just like someone who comes to me that has an alcohol problem, I’m like, you need to see help. I’m sure there’s therapists out there who deal with financial addiction, gambling addiction, I mean, I’m gonna want my client to seek help if we go to court. They’re gonna wanna see that too. If you have kids, they’re gonna be concerned if you’re just sitting on the couch or in your computer room all day gambling and being stressed out and not interacting with your children, I mean, that’s gonna take some kind of form and perhaps interrupt custody. So that’s something to think about as well. And just really try to help this person because if it’s a problem in their marriage, it’s gonna be a problem regardless if the marriage disappears. Also, you know, it’s something I think about is that the court might, now that it’s legal. What’s the court gonna assess as reasonable, like $30 a week or so online gambling? Okay. Maybe that’s okay. Just like if you’re going out to the bar or, I see people’s statements for ABC store purchases. Oh, I like to have some bourbon and I have a bourbon purchase every couple weeks. Okay, fine. And what’s that threshold to really cross over what’s abusing the financials in the marriage?

Jen: TBD on that, right? We haven’t faced it here in North Carolina yet. So, and then obviously I would imagine with those on both sides, whether it’s the spending spouse or the non spending spouse, there’s some, well, really in any cases, right, there’s a hard conversation gonna be had, right? Because you guys are obviously, we’re always gonna be honest with our clients. We’re not gonna tell you what you wanna hear, we’re gonna tell you what you need to hear. And sometimes it’s not what you wanna hear.

Sarah: A lot of times it’s not what you wanna hear. 

Jen: So having those hard conversations coming from a place of, if you are the gambler, getting help if it is addiction level, being honest about what you’re potentially looking at, like you said as a parent if it’s affecting it financially is how you might just be on the hook for this. Like yeah, this is, if you’re looking at the distributive award or however all that works. You know, this is all gonna be yours.

Sarah: And if you have knowledge of it and you are okay with it, or at least seem okay with it for, you know, a year, then you can’t claim at that point. Hey, I want it backed out. I don’t wanna have to pay for his gambling debt, if you like, actively participated in or seemed to have supported it or like to know about it, you know? So that’s gonna be hard to really put that up as a defense as well.

Jen: Regardless, it’s very important to find out, right? Like no matter what side you’re on, it’s very important to know what your financial picture looks like. And then should you find yourself in a potential separation situation, maybe inquire about a postnup or what this looks like should you get divorced. And then furthermore, if it does start heading down a separation, divorce path, then to absolutely find out what this looks like for you.

Sarah: And if you are just not knowledgeable on finances in general, like that’s just a world that you are not a part of. Then there’s, there’s therapists and counselors out there to, you know, counsel you on your financials. And I’m seeing it more and more, especially for women to have someone help them through the process of understanding bank accounts and retirement accounts and, you know, all of these different investment accounts you can do. Because that’s just not something that was really taught to women in the past.

Jen: And financial control and financial abuse is a real thing. It’s just a different version of control and abuse or domestic abuse. Doesn’t have to be violence, the financial piece of it really sometimes can be the biggest constraint of leaving a very toxic, unhealthy relationship. So we always say knowledge is power and that 1000% applies to the financial piece of it.

Sarah: And this gambling could have a big impact. I do expect to see more separations because of gambling issues in our area.

Jen: And we get it. It can be fun. We’ve been in an all-girl fantasy football league together. We’ve got brackets going in the office.

Sarah: I wanna make my money. Our friends’ bracket that’s been going on for, you know, 20 years at this point, with $15 I put on it every year. 

Jen: So it can definitely be fun, friendly, and competitive. But it can be dangerous too. It can be scary. 

Sarah: Yes. Ain’t that some shit?

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