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The problem of financial infidelity

There are many reasons why marriages struggle – and most of those aren’t the dramatic plot twists of soap operas. Marital infidelity is a real and serious problem, but another often-overlooked concern is when couples hide money from one another.

Known as financial infidelity, partners may hold secret bank accounts, hide assets or purchases, or don’t adequately discuss investments, spending or other financial matters with each. By law, marital property belongs to both partners. Financial infidelity like accumulating debt or irresponsible spending will hurt the other partner regardless of whose name is on the receipt. Similarly, hidden assets with value belong to both partners, regardless of which partner signed the check.

Addressing the problem

Based on surveys by the National Endowment for Financial Education, financial infidelity rates are on the rise. In a Reuters article exploring the problem, a financial expert offers three main tips for those who are experiencing financial challenges in their relationship:

  1. Communicate – The first step is to broach the topic, with honesty. Admit the situation and get the ball rolling.
  2. Set guidelines – While each couple is different, partners are often uncertain of what their partners want to know about when it comes to personal spending.
  3. Respect each other – Talk alone doesn’t resolve an issue. Working through a problem involves mutual respect and honoring your word.

When it’s beyond resolution

While resolution is possible, sometimes trust is severely shaken. In the survey mentioned earlier, 75 percent of respondents said the issue affected their relationships negatively, including leading to divorce. Every situation is different, but it’s hard to learn that a spouse is lying or isn’t who you thought they were.

Another danger of financial infidelity is that it often leads to contentious divorce. If a spouse hid money during the relationship, it’s a reasonable expectation that he or she will do the same in divorce. Marriage is a partnership. Any property acquired during a marriage belongs to both partners.

Moving on and covering losses

It’s worthwhile to research bank accounts, investments, businesses and property for irregular activity. Unfortunately, many spouses hide assets during divorce, which is an area where an experienced attorney can help to identify suspicious behavior. If a spouse has accumulated significant debt, it may be possible to negotiate a fair settlement that doesn’t place an unnecessary burden on a partner with responsible spending habits.