Are You or Your Spouse Keeping Secrets During Your Divorce?

Certain secrets and hidden agendas cause chaos in divorce. Some common secrets.

Posted Nov 02, 2020

Over the years, I have discovered that some of my divorcing clients were hiding secrets.

Sometimes the secrets were to be kept from their spouse, and other times the couple colluded to keep a secret from their attorneys or divorce coaches.

The discovery of these secrets can quickly unravel an apparently amicable divorce and cause enormous damage to the soon-to-be-ex relationship. The divorce will become more adversarial, expensive, legally complex, and it will take much longer to reach a final resolution.

Are you harboring a secret? It might be a lie or perhaps a lie by omission…you haven’t revealed something important and relevant to the divorce. When it is discovered, a divorce that started out as a “conscious uncoupling” may wind up in court, where a judge makes the decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Worse, if you have children, there will be serious damage to the co-parenting relationship and the children’s relationships with you and your co-parent.

Here are some of the secrets that have surfaced in my work as a divorce coach. Names and details have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Photo by Akshay Anand from Pexels
Internet gambling can be a hidden addiction, and is more common that you might think.
Source: Photo by Akshay Anand from Pexels

A Gambling Addiction. Fiona could not understand the financial disclosures that the law requires. The numbers were not adding up. It had never occurred to her that her husband might be hiding something, but after months of trying to make sense of their income, expenses, debts, and assets, she began to raise questions. When he couldn’t explain or answer her questions, Paul was backed into a corner, and finally admitted that he had been gambling on the internet for some time and had lost close to $250,000. This was a Collaborative Divorce, in which the parties agree to complete transparency, so the revelation nearly derailed their divorce. With the support of his divorce coach and attorney, he came forward, apologized, sought treatment for his gambling addiction, and fortunately was able to reimburse the community estate.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Child Endangerment. Helen and Alex were hiding two secrets. They colluded with each other to keep this information from their lawyers and coaches. The information came out when Alex, drunk, had a car accident with children in the car, and then several DUI cases that were printed in the newspaper. Helen had hidden this information because Alex hid the fact that she was abusing prescription medications. Their collusion prevented the support and treatment they each needed until there was the crisis of the children’s safety. Sadly, the divorce process fell apart and they ended up in court. At that point, allegations of physical abuse emerged, and the escalation continued for many months.

If you have been physically or sexually abused, and the perpetrator has threatened you if you reveal this secret, seek help from your attorney, law enforcement, or call the national hotline for domestic violence, at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233).

An Affair, a Suicide, and a Baby. Dennis had been having an affair with a married co-worker for some time, and when the woman, Amber, became pregnant, he felt he needed to divorce his wife to help raise the baby. Tragically, when Amber’s husband learned of the affair, he committed suicide. Dennis confessed the affair to his wife many months into the divorce process and at that point the divorce ground to a halt. Dennis’s wife was hospitalized with depression and their sons turned against their father. It was many years later that the children were able to reconnect with their father.

In another divorce, the wife was pregnant, and her spouse did not know she was in another relationship prior to their separation.

In several other cases, a spouse accused their partner of bringing home STDs.

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The discovery of an affair frequently happens through social media or by searching through your spouse's phone or email.
Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I have worked with many divorcing couples who learned of the spouse’s affair through social media posts. I have also seen many people discover the spouse’s affair when text messages or photos pop on the spouse’s screen, or when he or she sends an incriminating to their spouse by mistake. Technology has made it much easier for people to discover a spouse’s affair, especially if they are suspicious and examine the spouse’s computer or phone.

Introducing Your Children to Your Affair.  Meghan did not know that Richard was involved with another woman. Just after they separated Richard introduced the children to his new girlfriend, Lucy. The divorce process had not started yet, so Richard told his children that Lucy was just a “friend” and they were instructed not to tell Meghan, their mom, about his new friend. He asked his children to keep his secret. Not only was this unhealthy and unfair to the children, but when Meghan found out, she was so enraged that she made every step of the divorce as punishing and difficult as possible.

In another case, Jeff fell in love with another man prior to his divorce. When Jeff and his wife separated, he moved in with his lover, who had just separated from his wife as well. They had planned this together, but neither of their wives knew of their intentions. Jeff’s wife did not know that he was coming out as gay. The two men had five children between them and suddenly created this blended family, long before the children were ready, long before the divorce was finalized, and completely blindsided the two wives. The ripple effect of the damage to the children and the parents lasted for years.

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Spending sprees and hiding money is often about fear of the future, but it endangers the divorce process.
Source: Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Hidden Assets and/or Hidden Debts. Clients sometimes take out credit cards or borrow money that the spouse does not know about. Sometimes a client anticipating a divorce will go on a spending spree or start to hide money in a new, separate bank account. A client may try to hide a bonus received at work or a gift or inheritance. When this is discovered, the legal consequences are serious.

I have seen clients secretly move or destroy important documents. Others have taken valuable personal possessions, such as collectibles, artwork, jewelry, or other personal property, and hidden it from their spouse.

Sometimes things just “disappear.” Shannon grieved the loss of her children’s baby books that she had made for each child. Her husband swore that he had not taken them, but she didn’t believe him, and this fed her resentment and anxiety. “What else did he take?” she wondered. If he didn’t admit it there was no way to know, so the trust was badly eroded. Co-parenting is challenging when you are suspicious of your spouse.

Hidden Agenda to Move With the Children. Alicia’s family lived 1500 miles away, and during the divorce, she missed them terribly. She had moved to California to marry her husband, Emil, but when he decided to divorce her, she felt no reason to stay in California. She began to plan a move back to live near her family, but she did not tell her husband.

Alicia signed a lease for a home near her parents. She took the children to visit her parents and while she was there, she informed Emil that she would not be returning with the children. This divorce, which had started out as a cooperative divorce, wound up in court. The judge let her know that while he couldn’t prevent her move, the children would have to be returned to their home in California, to the community where they had been raised, and to their father.

The point to remember is that certain secrets and hidden agendas cause chaos in divorce. If you are withholding information from your spouse during a divorce, stop to consider the consequences of discovery. Meet with a divorce coach to find a way to reveal the secret before it is discovered.  Coming forward with your secret may be painful but if you don't, when your spouse (or attorney) discovers the secret you have hidden, the pain will be much worse. The damage caused by the discovery of secrets will have lasting effects.

Divorce is a life crisis, but secrets can make a divorce catastrophic for you, your spouse, and your children.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2020