GettyImages_sb10066530g-001.jpgThe media seems to be having a good chuckle over the recent legal tiff between hedge fund manager Daniel Shak and his ex-wife, professional poker player Beth Shak. The couple divorced about three years ago, but Daniel is requesting that the court amend their divorce settlement.  He argues that his wife hid assets from him during the divorce and their value entitles him to an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The assets in question? During their marriage, Beth apparently invested a fortune in a vast collection of 1,200 pairs of designer shoes and handbags.  It seems that Beth’s shoe collection is legendary, the subject of profiles in papers and television. For her part, Beth alleges the assets were far from hidden.  She claims her shoe collection was left in plain sight, stored in her home’s master bedroom closet during the marriage. 

Ultimately, the courts will determine whether Daniel is right that these assets were hidden and if they warrant reassessing the divorce settlement.  Whatever the outcome, there are a number of lessons divorce attorneys and investigators can learn from this case. 

We wrote a recent piece in Bloomberg BNA Family Law Reporter about asset searches in divorces, “Matrimonial Asset Searches: Your Client Knows More Than She Thinks.”  We’ve also detailed in a few blog entries, including “Thinking About Divorce? The Essential Checklist” and “The Investigation Starts With the Client Interview“, the importance of a thorough client interview when starting any asset search. 

  • When matrimonial attorneys interview their clients about their spouse’s assets, they should encourage their client to think beyond items that are obviously valuable, like jewelry and artwork
  • Attorneys should remind their clients that all items their spouse collected, from designer shoes to crystal figurines to snow globes, could be considered assets.  Odds are that if any amount of money, time and effort was spent in building a collection, then that collection is worth scrutinizing. 

This story is also a reminder about the importance of completing a thorough litigation search to track down hidden assets.  For instance, a litigation search could uncover a contractor who sued for payment after installing a secret room.  Or perhaps a gardener who may have sued for back wages, but when contacted is happy to share his knowledge about whether his former employers were keeping any secrets from each other. 

Additionally, if there is any hint that assets are hidden within a home, any contractors or employees that worked in the home should be tracked down.  A spouse might not admit that they had a hidden closet where they squirreled away their latest treasures.  However, the handyman that helped install the shelves in the closet, or the housekeeper tasked with keeping the room tidy might be able to provide information to compel the spouse to confess. 

Similarly, it may be worthwhile talking to any movers hired to help the spouse relocate.  After all, they can provide firsthand information about any expensive items they packed and moved.