Image: Man with suitcase of money © Corbis

I hear from a lot of women who hide money from their spouses. And they have no desire to tell 'em, either.

These aren't the financially dependent women of yore, who relied on their husbands' salaries (and whose only financial cushions in case of divorce, illness or emergency were these secret nest eggs). These are modern, working women -- some with families, some without.

One woman I know calls the several thousand dollars she has squirreled away her "security blanket." It's not an escape route (she and her hubby are happily married). Nor does she think he would mind if he knew about it. She's just afraid he'd want to spend it -- and she likes being able to pay for extras for herself and the kids. Another woman has a fascinating "don't ask, don't tell" policy with her spouse. After they pay the bills, he doesn't ask what she does with the money she earns and she doesn't tell him.

But this isn't about women hiding money from men (although a survey by British online bank found that about 75% of women admitted to hiding money, compared with 53% of men). It's about the fact that both genders hide money from their mates, and how you can tell -- and when you should care -- if it happens to be your partner.

Don't jump to conclusions

If you're suspicious that your mate is holding out on you, your best bet is to calm down, says Violet Woodhouse, an attorney in Newport Beach, Calif., who specializes in divorce -- the event most likely to reveal who has been hiding what from whom. Although hiding money is certainly something that happens, she says, "I disagree that it's that common."

Far more prevalent, she says, is one partner's perception that he or she is being deceived. But in most cases, that suspicion turns out to be more paranoid than true. The partner who thinks there's missing money is often the one less involved in the couples' finances to start with. "They do the spending, but not the financial management," Woodhouse says. "So they don't know what the big picture is."

Richard Barry, a matrimonial lawyer in San Rafael, Calif., and a former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, agrees that hiding money isn't as common as people believe. He's been specializing in this field for three decades, and as more women have become financially secure in their own right, he says he's seen fewer instances of either spouse hiding money.

Besides, he points out, "It's harder to do than one supposes. To hide money, you almost have to hide it in cash, literally under a mattress, if you really don't want it found."

Anthony Fava, a New York tax accountant, adds that it's almost impossible for one spouse to siphon off a big chunk of income without the other spouse noticing. In order to set aside serious money, he says, you'd have to be doing it over a long period of time -- and most people have no reason to be that deceitful.