Expert witnesses are individuals with knowledge, insights, and experience beyond that of an average person. In complex or highly contested divorces, they provide opinions in court to facilitate fair and equitable settlements. Depending on the issues needing to be considered, various professionals may serve as experts, such as forensic accountants or child psychologists.
If you are going through a divorce, you may or may not need to call an expert witness for your case. Your family law attorney can assess your situation and let you know whether their testimony is necessary to come to a settlement. Your lawyer may also identify and contact experts to serve in your case.
What Are Expert Witnesses?
Various issues must be settled in a divorce, including child custody, spousal support, and property division. In some cases, couples are able to come to agreements about these matters or a judge makes a decision because the situation is not too complex. However, circumstances exist where the couple adamantly disagrees on how to resolve things, or the case is so complicated that an array of factors need to be considered.
Expert witnesses come in to provide opinions on specific aspects of a divorce. These individuals have the specialized training, education, and experience to form assessments beyond that which the couple themselves or their lawyers can. They can ensure that all relevant elements are accounted for to advise the court about what would be in the best interests of the couple and/or children. However, they do not provide any judgments on how to resolve differences. Rather, experts aid in the decision-making process.
Who Can Serve as Expert Witnesses?
Several different individuals can serve as expert witnesses in a divorce. The professional you call to testify in your case depends on what matters you need to settle. The testimony they give can play a small or large part in the way your case resolves.
Experts called on in a divorce include, but are not limited to:
- Custody evaluators: You might need a child psychologist or other professional knowledge about child development matters if you and your spouse cannot agree on custody arrangements. These experts can discuss the child's emotional, physical, and psychological well-being to assist in analyzing what’s in their best interests.
- Vocational experts: If you or your spouse seek spousal support, a vocational expert might be retained. When a judge considers whether to grant alimony, they will consider various factors, including the requesting spouse’s earning capacity and the training and education they need to get a well-paying job. A vocational expert can speak to these elements.
- Forensic accountant: These experts are often relied upon to assist with locating and disclosing assets, debts, income, and expenses. They can help facilitate a just division by determining the property's fair market value.
- Business appraisers: If you and your spouse own a business, it must be appraised to determine how it’s split. The appraisal must account for relevant sectors of the business to ensure an accurate valuation.
Do You Always Need an Expert Witness?
Expert witnesses are not required for every divorce case. As mentioned earlier, if you and your spouse can agree on critical matters or your situation is straightforward, you may be able to settle without needing an expert opinion.
Still, if an expert witness is required, you must ensure that you properly disclose their information to your spouse or their lawyer.
The law states that you must give the other side the expert’s:
- Phone number, and
- Area of expertise.
You must also provide a statement concerning their testimony and what they are giving opinions on.
The disclosure requirement allows the other side to develop their case and prepare for cross-examination.
Schedule a Consultation with Claery & Hammond, LLP
Some divorce cases might require the use of an expert witness, whereas others may not. If you’re in a highly contentious or complex situation, an opinion from an experienced and knowledgeable professional might help settle key issues. An attorney can reach out to the necessary individuals to testify and facilitate a just resolution.
If you need legal assistance for your divorce or other family law matter, please contact our San Diego team at (619) 567-6704.