money locked


I came across an article from a journal of financial infidelity, and was intrigued by a term I had never heard. Apparently, there is an entire professional journal devoted to therapy for financial infidelity.

I was skeptical. For example, when one person in a financial relationship buys gifts for children or grandchildren without consulting with the other person, that was defined as financial infidelity. Now, in my household, I like to shop year round for gifts for family. My husband does not like to shop for other people. Period. Torture for him is walking slowly through a store looking at things with me that I may or may not buy. He wants to go into the store, get what he needs, and get out. So I shop and buy things for other people without telling him in advance that I bought the items, and without telling him after I bought the items. Is this financial infidelity?

In reality, financial infidelity is a catchy phrase for what has always been an issue in divorces: breach of trust. If someone is intentionally hiding assets or debts in a relationship where hiding the money affects the family, then there is a breach of trust. I’ve been a divorce attorney for over 30 years, and the causes of divorce are often not the huge breaches, such as having an affair, or an out of control drug addiction. It is the smaller breaches of trust that add up, making you question if you really know the other person at all, and if you want to continue to be in that relationship.

Financial infidelity is not necessarily a relationship breaker. If the breach of trust is malicious or with bad intent, it is more likely to be a deal breaker, because of what it represents. If one person has a gambling addiction, and doesn’t want to let the spouse know because of shame, or bank statements and credit card statements start going missing, or are sent to an address the other person doesn’t know about, those are breaches of trust. Spending addictions are ways that people can compensate, in the short run, for other problems in the relationship. Husband is out of town a lot for business? Wife goes shopping, and buys things that are never used. This can go on for a while until Husband finally does see the bill for several thousand dollars, and suddenly there is a huge breach.

Like any kind of breach of trust, with enough transparency and enough work on the underlying issues, financial infidelity does not have to be a deal breaker. Unfortunately, by the time that the problem is discovered, it is difficult to undo, or the financial impact on the family is so large that the breach cannot be healed. At that point, the best option is to get information about how to protect yourself, and potentially the children, in the event that the breach of trust cannot be healed.

Sometimes hiding money or debt can be indications of financial abuse. If one party does not have access to money unless “allowed” money by the other party, that is potentially a power imbalance, which is the real issue. I’m not talking about creating a budget together, and both people knowing what is available to spend. I’m talking about people, often women, who don’t work outside the home, who do not pay the bills and are not given information about what the bills are, or what the finances are, and who are desperate to have some money of their own to spend, whether it be to have coffee with a friend, or buy an extra little something for the grandkid who comes to visit. That is financial infidelity – it is hiding money and not being transparent about it – but the reason is an even bigger breach of trust. If this is your situation, then you benefit from talking to an attorney, getting information about your options, so that you know that you are not trapped, you do have choices, even if the choices are difficult.

If you are hiding money, start asking yourself why. If money is being hidden from you, start asking yourself why. Then get information from an attorney so that you know what you need to do going forward.

As for me shopping for gifts for the family? Not financial infidelity. Just a recognition that we have different skills and interests, with open transparency and agreement on how those interests are played out!