Family Law Focus – Cozen O'Connor

Using Experts In Divorce And Custody Litigation

shutterstock_216581602Next month, I will be the keynote speaker at the American Board of Vocational Experts’ (ABVE) annual conference in San Antonio, Texas.  One of the topics I will be discussing is how to choose an expert.  In family law cases, experts are frequently used.  They become part of the team in preparing the case for trial and are often helpful in settling a matter.

So what experts are important in a family law case?  A real estate appraiser is used to determine the value of real property such as the marital home.  A business valuation expert will determine the value of a small business.  A forensic accountant can help determine income for support purposes and find hidden assets. A vocational expert can determine the earning capacity of a non-working spouse.  A custody evaluator helps the Court make a decision regarding custody of children.

Not all of the aforementioned experts are necessary in every case.  In fact, in some cases, no experts are needed.  But choosing the right expert when one is required is critical.  Experts are most often chosen based on reputation and experience.  An expert who understands family law and what it takes to convincingly testify at divorce or custody proceeding is crucial.

Sometimes a party believes that the expert they hire will be their advocate, similar to their attorney.  In fact, an expert is supposed to be independent and make decisions based upon their expertise as applied to the facts at hand.

To save money in a divorce case, it is often suggested that parties’ agree to use a joint expert. Although it is certainly cheaper to divide the cost of one expert rather than pay for two experts, this is not always the best  decision.  Having one’s own expert gives a party the opportunity to pursue their own best  strategy and while, the expert may not always agree with that strategy, at least they will pay attention to it.

While experts can add to the cost of the case, this expense will often help lead to resolution of the matter as experts can assist in providing answers to major questions in a case.   As such, understanding the role experts play in litigation is important for divorcing parties.

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