Commentary: Diamonds Aren’t Forever

Q: I got your name out of a magazine my soon-to-be ex-husband gets, and I’m hoping you can help me with a really bad problem I’ve run into in connection with my divorce proceedings.

He and I are both professionals, and when I asked for a divorce I agreed to let him have the house and he agreed to let me take my own things out. I know I should have supervised moving my stuff, but I had serious work commitments, so I just hired a moving company and made a list of what they should take. I knew he’d be home when they picked up, and I arranged for delivery when I could be in my new apartment.

Well, they got everything on my list (and a couple more things). But one of the items on my list was a dresser that had all my jewelry in one of the drawers, some of it pretty valuable. The drawer had been locked and I had the only key, but when I checked — after the movers left, unfortunately — I found the lock had been broken and a lot of the jewelry was gone.

I had to go through my lawyer, who talked to my husband’s lawyer, but when I did the report, all I got back was that my husband hadn’t touched my stuff; it was all there when the movers picked up the dresser. So now I’m thinking the movers must have taken the missing jewelry.

The movers, however, say they never touched a thing and don’t know anything about the broken lock. They say they delivered everything just as they got it.

Now what? I don’t know whether to believe my husband or the movers. The divorce has been pretty amicable so far, and I don’t want to mess that up by accusing my husband. My feeling is that the movers probably stole the jewelry, but I can’t prove it. Can you suggest anything I can do?

A: Yes. Contact the police immediately (if you haven’t done so already) and report the jewelry stolen. Then sit back and hope they turn some of it up.

Apparently, you didn’t have this stuff adequately insured. If you had, the problem would be your insurance company’s, and it would be a lot less squeamish than you seem to be about taking steps to recover the missing jewelry.

Whoever stole this stuff didn’t do so to keep it. Your husband’s a guy, the movers are probably guys, too, and guys generally don’t have a lot of personal use for feminine jewelry. So the main attraction here is that “some of it (was) pretty valuable,” and the likelihood is that whoever stole it will try to realize some of that value by selling it off. Your lone hope is that, if you tell the cops and describe what’s missing and they put out an alert to local pawnshops, jewelers, etc., they’ll sooner or later get a hit and be able to trace it back to the thief.

Right now you have no clear basis on which to either put in a claim to the movers or lay an accusation against hubby. Only if one or more of the missing pieces can be traced back to one or the other will you have such a basis, and even then you’re on shaky ground.

If the culprit is hubby — and that’s my bet; who else knew where you kept your jewelry? — you’ll be in OK shape if and when he turns out to be the one hocking or selling the stolen stuff. Your divorce lawyer will love it, and the value of what’s still missing will surely be reflected in your final settlement.
If the movers took it — less likely, but still quite possible — your situation won’t be as good. Even if one of the movers is caught red-handed trying to sell one of the pieces, it’s still your word alone that there were others and their value was thus-and-such. You’ll have a claim against the thief’s employer (the moving company), but proving what was taken will be tough even if hubby can be induced to testify on your behalf.

Basic rule No. 1 of transportation: Don’t try to ship stuff of significant value concealed inside other articles, packaging, etc., without declaring it.

Basic rule No. 2: Don’t ship the valuable stuff at all if you can avoid it. In this case, you could have simply fetched your own jewelry, and you should have.

All I can say is, good luck in your search.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.

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