MONEY

Hiding marital assets from a would-be ex

by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ

Question: I’ve decided to leave my husband, so I’ve begun transferring things from our home – mostly stuff from my family – to a storage locker I’ve secretly rented. Chris can be petty. Once he learns I want a divorce, he’ll try to get everything he can, even items he doesn’t care about. Am I doing anything wrong?

Answer: As the queen of heartaches Tammy Wynette once observed, D-I-V-O-R-C-E is pure H-E-Double-L hell. But that’s no excuse for behaving dishonorably. In concealing your intentions while surreptitiously raiding the roost, you’re not being fair to your husband. Since Chris assumes you’re still M-A-Double-R-I-E-D, he’s undoubtedly acting differently than he would if he knew what you knew. Were you to announce your decision, would he, say, continue to have his paycheck deposited in your joint account, accept a generous gift to you both from his parents or – on another front – fail to notice that things are disappearing from the house? We doubt it.

Don’t misunderstand. We’re all for you standing up for your own interests. And if Chris were violent, not revealing your plans until after you’d moved would be fine. But maintaining the pretense of a stable marriage in order to keep your spouse from noticing that you’re helping yourself to what’s arguably community property is cheating, and that’s true whether you’re sneaking prize possessions into a secret storage locker or funneling money into a secret bank account. The Bermuda Triangle of men, women and money has destroyed the integrity of many an otherwise honest person. Try not to let it happen to you.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.

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