For decades, infidelity in a marriage has referred primarily to emotional or sexual relationships that develop outside of the marriage. One spouse starts to seek love, affection and validation elsewhere. This leads to lying, sneaking around and broken hearts. In some cases, that infidelity can have a financial impact or even put the other spouse's health at risk.

Financial infidelity is something that marriage experts are only just starting to explore. Despite the relative newness of the term itself, the practices involved with financial infidelity are generations old. In fact, there has long been an adage that the three things spouses most likely fight about are money, intimacy and in-laws.

Understanding what comprises financial infidelity

Financial infidelity is not necessarily the practice of spending money on an affair, though that could be one form it takes. Also called financial abuse, financial infidelity can involve hiding debt, lying about income or spending habits or using money as a means to control a partner. Of course, there's a strong streak of independence in many people, but once you marry, your decisions have a direct impact on your spouse and any children you may share.

Roughly 27 percent of people in a recent NBC poll admitted to taking on new debts without telling a partner. Doing that can impact the household's financial stability and cause major issues with your budget, retirement plan or credit. Financial transparency is the generally best way to handle money in a marriage. You can work together to address issues like debt, compulsive shopping or even a drug or gambling addiction. Hiding it from your spouse, however, could undermine the trust and respect that are foundations of any strong marriage.

Financial infidelity can lead couples to divorce

While discovering that your partner is cheating on you can be devastating, so can discovering that your spouse has gambled away the equity in your home or purchased a boat with your child's college savings. The sense of betrayal and anger, especially if more lies later surface, can lead couples to divorce court. For those who engage in financial infidelity, there could be consequences when it comes time to divide assets in a divorce.

The courts in Ohio work toward equitable and fair distribution of the marital assets and debts. However, special circumstances can factor into the decision. The courts will often look at issues like hidden debts, gambling, addiction and intentional dissipation of marital assets when rendering their final decisions.

Spouses who rack up debt to punish their husbands or wives, as well as those who spend massive amounts of the marital assets on an affair or things that don't serve the marriage, could see a relatively unfavorable outcome to the asset distribution process. The same may be true of those who intentionally hide debts and purchases throughout the marriage.

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