In recent years there has been a marked improvement in society’s understanding of mental ill-health and it is now recognised that there is often link between anxiety or depression, and addiction.
It would be impossible to list all of the different types of addiction that can be experienced, but as a solicitor specialising in family law I have seen a link between addiction and divorce. The most common addictions that cause problems for my clients and their spouses are addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling.
Physical and mental health
Where a married couple make the decision to separate and face dividing their finances, it is vital to consider the effect of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. At section 25, there is a list of statutory factors that the Family Court must refer to when considering a proposed financial division, whether that division is by consent or otherwise. Two such factors are any physical and mental disability or ill-health suffered by the parties and the conduct of each of the parties.
Where the conduct of one spouse has had a negative effect upon the family finances, then it is common for the other spouse to feel that they should not suffer the financial consequences. This could be where, for example, a spouse with an addiction to gambling has lost money, or where a spouse has spent significant sums of money purchasing drugs or alcohol.
In such circumstances, the spouse who does not have the addiction may seek to show that the value of assets that have been lost should be added back to the pot that would otherwise have been available to the parties for division.
Addiction is more commonly recognised
Such an approach is fraught with difficulty. Each individual case will be decided upon its own merits, but the fact that addiction is now increasingly recognised as being linked to anxiety and depression means that it has become even more difficult to assert that the spouse suffering from the addiction should be further penalised.
A precedent was established in 2007 that there must be “wanton dissipation of assets” for this mechanism to be triggered; this implies that the person spending the money is making a conscious choice over which they are exercising control. It is not likely that a person who is suffering from an addiction would meet that criteria.
Addiction and divorce in court
This issue was considered again by the Family Court in 2015 in the case of MAP v MFP. The husband and wife had been married for 40 years and the husband had built a very successful business which afforded a luxurious lifestyle.
However, the husband suffered from depression and addiction. He spent a very significant sum (around £250,000) on cocaine, alcohol, and prostitutes, as well as a further £230,000 on therapy and rehabilitation treatments. His wife asked the court to ‘add back’ these sums to the assets available for division.
The judge refused to add back the sum of £230,000 that had been spent on therapy and rehabilitation; it was recognised that the husband had an illness and that he was trying to address this. The judge also refused to add back the £250,000 that had been spent on alcohol, drugs, and the services of prostitutes; the judge was persuaded that the spending was a result of the husband’s addiction and also that it represented an element of his personality.
The judge felt it would be inequitable for the wife to be allowed to pick and choose the elements of her husband’s personality which suited her; she could not seek to benefit from the elements of his personality that had enabled him to establish a successful business but exclude the negative impact of his depression and addiction.
Whilst each case will be considered on each own merits, it is therefore important to bear in mind that it is very unlikely that a spouse who suffers from an addiction which has had a negative effect upon family finances will be penalised for this when those finances are divided in the event of a divorce.
Please see the links below to charities that may be able to provide support for anyone struggling with an addiction:
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