U.S. Markets open in 2 mins

How to protect your finances if your spouse is cheating

Natalie Mayrath
Producer/Reporter

Infidelity can be a devastating life event for all parties involved, especially the person being cheated on. If you do find yourself suspecting you’ve got a cheating partner on your hands, it’s a good idea to keep your emotions leveled while tackling the practical financial matters of the situation.

Paige Zandri, a family law attorney who focuses on premarital, marital and divorce settlements in New York, says it’s important to wait until you’ve “divorced yourself from the emotional aspect of this event” before making any big decisions.  

Zandri says that adultery does not always mean divorce; many couples do work through instances of cheating, and can improve their communication and ultimately their relationship after an event like adultery occurs.

She notes that either way, the person being cheated on is facing a big decision: “You either have to decide if you are the type of person who wants to reconcile, or if you’re the type of person who can’t manage this, and who won’t accept it,” she says. Then you can move forward with next steps.   

KNOW YOUR MARITAL ESTATE

From a financial standpoint, Zandri says it’s important to have your finances accounted for, know where your assets are, and most importantly, be able to calculate your “marital estate,” which is the difference in a couple’s net worth from the date they got married to the date of a separation.  The marital estate is what the courts will look at during a divorce settlement to determine how property and assets will be divided.

HIRE PROFESSIONALS YOU TRUST

Zandri also lists the most important individuals you should consult under these circumstances, including an accountant or tax adviser, your financial planner, followed by a divorce attorney once you’ve talked with the professionals who handle your finances.

She adds that a private investigator might be helpful in states where the courts recognize “fault” like adultery as a deciding factor in how marital property gets divided (most states recognize fault in divorce settlements, including New York, New Jersey, Texas and Massachusetts; California, Florida, and Wisconsin, among others, do not). In these cases, the person being cheated on will hold the burden of proof. Zandri warns that actually obtaining such proof can be so costly that it might often be wiser financially to pursue a no-fault divorce, which means that the cheating party won’t receive any type of financial penalty for his or her actions.

“HIDING” YOUR MONEY WON’T PROTECT IT

Zandri notices that when cheating happens, clients will immediately think of ways they can “hide” money in their own names or with family members. While she says that gifting money to family members or stashing large amounts of money in a personal account are not illegal, they won’t necessarily lead to a desired outcome and likely the courts will notice the timing of these transactions and draw this money back into the marital estate.  

You shouldn’t expect that if you’ve been cheated on, you’re going to get vengeance through the justice system,” says Zandri. “You probably will just hopefully walk away with what you’re entitled to, and what’s going to help you move on to the next stage of your life in as smooth away as possible.”

WATCH MORE 

5 money tips I wish I knew before college

Preparing for college? Here’s what you need to apply for financial aid

Confessions of a former college admissions officer: 5 ways to ace your college application

This story was originally published on November 12, 2018.