One of the first things that you and your attorney will assess is whether you need any experts for your divorce case.
There are many types of experts that can be employed in a divorce case, and your case may only need one, or may need several – it all depends upon what issues are in play and whether they are contested. While any expert you engage should be prepared to testify at trial if your case comes to that, in my experience an expert’s report actually helps to foster settlement the overwhelming majority of the time.
Why? Unless an expert completely lacks credibility, a judge is likely to take his or her opinion on an issue into account heavily at trial. When the expert’s report is issued, the opposing side knows what he or she is up against – what the likely “worst day” in court is – and can make an educated decision about how to settle. If both sides have their own experts on the same issues, then both parties know the range of possible outcomes they are likely to get at trial, and this also helps both sides negotiate a resolution somewhere in that universe.
So, what experts might be needed in a divorce case? Here are a few of the most commonly used types of experts.
Experts in Child Custody Issues
- Custody Expert. A custody expert, trained and educated in psychology, will meet with both parents individually, sometimes together, and will always meet with and observe the parties individually with the child. The custody expert will also review and pertinent written documents, and will conduct interviews with “collateral contacts” – family members, the child’s teacher(s), the child’s therapist, etc. This expert evaluates what custody and parenting time arrangement serves the best interests of the child.
- Psychiatric Expert. When there is an allegation of a serious mental illness affecting whether one parent is capable of appropriately caring for the child, a psychiatrist may step in to conduct a forensic psychiatric evaluation, which is often provided to the custody expert for him or her to review as part of his or her own report.
- Substance Abuse Expert. In cases where one or both parties has or allegedly has a drug or alcohol dependence or history of same, a substance abuse expert may step in to evaluate what measures can be taken to remediate this and may also implement same (such as urinalysis screening or monitoring via devices like Sober Link.
Experts in Support Issues
- Vocational or Employment Expert. This type of expert will look at a party’s work history, education, skills, and aptitude in order to evaluate how much he or she is capable of earning, and may also make recommendations as to courses or other steps one can take to rehabilitate and maximize earning capacity. These types of experts are used in cases where one party is asserting that the other is unemployed when he or she should not be, or is making less money than he or she is capable of earning – a major consideration when determining alimony and child support.
- Forensic Accountant. Another major consideration when determining alimony and some types of child support cases is the marital lifestyle. Alimony and child support are intended to maintain the supported spouse and the children in the marital lifestyle post-divorce (although, if one party exceeds the marital standard of living post divorce, then the children are also entitled to share in this). Therefore, it often happens that the party who will be paying support post-divorce understates the marital lifestyle, and the party who will be receiving support may overstate the marital lifestyle. A forensic accountant can be engaged to do a “lifestyle analysis,” to get to the bottom of what the real marital standard of living looked like.
Experts in Equitable Distribution Issues
- Forensic Accountant. Forensic accountants can also be engaged for equitable distribution purposes. Most often, this is to value a business interest. But they can be engaged for other reasons too, such as a pre-marital asset tracing.
- Residential Real Estate Appraiser. Oftentimes, a major issue in a case is what to do with the marital home. If both parties agree to sell, then a real estate appraiser is not needed. However, if one party wishes to buy the other out of his or her interest and stay in the house, then a real estate appraisal needs to be conducted in order to figure out the buy-out price one party will be paying the other.
- Personal Property Appraisers. Most of the time, parties are able to agree on how to divide their personal property, without much help. However, occasionally, parties will have a dispute over personal property. This might be an art collection, a sports memorabilia collection, furniture, jewelry – you name it. If it comes down to the parties desiring an exact, specific split on these types of items, then appraisers who specialize in a type of personal property can be called in.
Jessica Diamond Lia is a Partner in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or email@example.com.