When we marry someone, we think we know them. We think we know what they will do, and we trust them to do what’s right. Unfortunately, our trust is sometimes misplaced.

According to academic studies, about 41% of American adults say they have hidden a financial account, a debt or their spending habits from their spouse or partner. It’s called “financial infidelity,” and it’s a big problem.

What does money mean to you? It’s different for everyone, but it usually has something to do with safety and stability. In practical terms, it means a comfortable retirement, college educations for the kids, or simply knowing you don’t have to worry.

When a spouse takes out a debt without discussing the matter, or hides a source of income, it’s a real betrayal – perhaps just as serious as sexual infidelity.

A simple business decision

When Ann married Ed, he seemed to have his finances in great shape. She was impressed, and she thought they could be rational and discuss any money problems that came up during the marriage. The couple opened all their accounts jointly.

Everything went great for a while. Then Ed went to school to become a therapist. When his practice didn’t take off right away, he borrowed several thousand on his business credit card, which was the only account not shared with Ann. Instead of discussing it with her, he hoped his business would take off and she would never find out.

Ed admits he tried to justify his infidelity because hew was struggling psychologically with not being a sufficient provider.

In the end, Ed’s business didn’t grow enough to pay back the debt, and he had to come clean to Ann. He feels he broke his own moral code, and he knows he let Ann down.

Are there still surprises to be uncovered?

Unfortunately, Ed and Ann’s experience is actually a best-case scenario for financial infidelity, as Ann was able to forgive Ed and they were able to pay off the debt. Many couples aren’t so lucky.

Many people who commit financial infidelity continue to do so even during the divorce.  They may hide sources of income or assets like retirement accounts. They may do this to get a more favorable deal on property division, child support or alimony in the divorce. They may feel justified in hiding some of what they have, but doing so is illegal.

If you suspect that your spouse is hiding income or assets from the divorce court, you should immediately discuss your concerns with your divorce attorney. They can help you locate those assets and ensure you are treated fairly.