By Jennifer M. Paine
Businessman/divorcee Daniel Shak is suing his ex-wife over the designer shoe collection – all 1,200 shoes with an estimated value of more than $1 million – that she acquired during their marriage.
According to Shak, his ex-wife kept the pricey heels hidden in a secret room. No, he does not want one-half of them, nor the 35% of them he says he is entitled to per their divorce settlement.
What he does want is what everyone wants when personal property is at-issue in divorce: money!
The problem is, once your divorce is final, it is difficult to re-open the proceedings to fight about those shoes, or anything else related to property, for that matter. The property division terms in your divorce decree are intended to be final, binding and non-modifiable absent compelling circumstances. Those circumstances must amount to fraud, duress or mutual mistake.
Not taking advantage of investigating assets won’t cut it, thus Shak’s accusation that his ex-wife’s room was “secret” and that she concealed her shoe collection from him.
If handled correctly, however, you can keep your divorce from turning into a post-divorce investigation into your ex-wife’s belongings and a costly one at that. Consider these steps:
1. Inspect. If you are suspicious of what your wife has hidden in your home, car, office, or otherwise, chances are she has the same suspicions of you. Take advantage of this by agreeing to inspect the home, cars, offices, etc., together to confirm for each other that nothing is hidden.
2. Litigate. Rather than hire an appraiser, send an interrogatory (a question) to your wife that asks her to value your home contents. If you have a value in mind, and you suspect hers would be lower, send her a request to admit (another question) that asks her to agree with your value or, if she cannot agree, state with specificity her value and why she chose it.
These are legal tools that allow you and your wife to narrow the issues and commit to certain facts (like value) in your case.
3. Negotiate. Take pictures of each room in your home (some things have a funny way of “disappearing” during a divorce), and spend time creating a spreadsheet that itemizes the property and your guesstimated value. You can find comparables online at Craigslist and eBay.
Use your spreadsheet to negotiate which spouse takes what, and be sure to include a sum at the bottom that indicates the value of each spouse’s share (ideally one-half each) to justify your proposed division.
4. Value. Do not shy away from an appraiser. If you and your wife cannot select one, ask the divorce court to appoint one as an expert. Be prepared with names, and do your research because you may have to pay the costs as the spouse requesting the appraisal.
A good appraiser will spend a day or two during non-intrusive hours going through your home, item of property by item of property, and produce an itemized report of each item and its value. These reports are excellent starting points for negotiating who gets what (like the spreadsheet) and are eye-opening (you will be amazed by how much “stuff” you own and how much it is worth).
5. Assess. All of this being said, there comes a time when spending on attorneys and appraisers is not worth the anticipated benefit – a couple of items of property that you may not want after your divorce, anyway.
Before you endeavor down an expensive path of litigating, investigating, etc., consider whether all of the time and money is worth it based on your wife’s habits during your marriage and the likelihood that she actually does have something hidden. Sometimes the pros do not outweigh the cons, and you will have a smoother divorce moving on content that what you have is what you will get and neither of you care to worry about what the other has.
Otherwise, you could find yourself, years later, regretting that you did not pay more attention and did not care to value those items your wife desperately wanted– and she could be, like Shak’s ex-wife, (literally) walking away with lots of money.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.