Why Are Expert Witnesses Important to My Case?

Why Are Expert Witnesses Important to My Case?

Many lawyers will tell you that the truth is whatever can be proven in the courtroom. Oftentimes, in order to prove a specific fact it is necessary to call in an expert witness to testify about that fact or subject area. An expert witness is someone who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience has expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person sufficient that others may rely upon that person’s opinion in that area as an assistance to the judge. Basically, they know more about a particular subject than you, the lawyers, or the judge and can help the judge decide your case.

Expert witnesses may be needed for many different reasons in your divorce. Some examples of expert witnesses are:

  • Custodial evaluators
  • Real estate appraisers
  • Personal property appraisers (e.g. antiques, special collections, etc.)
  • Mental health professionals
  • Business valuators
  • Forensic accountants
  • Vocational experts

An expert witness may be needed to establish the value of certain property, discuss the physical, mental or emotional health of one of the parties or children, whether one spouse is concealing assets, or any other point that would assist the judge in making a decision. Early on in your case and as the case progresses, your attorney should discuss with you the need for possible expert witnesses. More than likely, you will need to hire someone with whom neither you nor your spouse has had a previous relationship to avoid a conflict of interest. In other words, you are probably not going to be able to use your family accountant to conduct a business valuation.

You should be prepared for the fact that expert witnesses will charge for their services. Some of those services are not cheap either. While there are provisions in the rules to petition the court for advancement of fees for retention of expert witnesses from a higher wage earning spouse, many judges seem hesitant to order it. However, some judges will appoint an expert witness and direct that the parties split the cost. This avoids a “battle of experts” where each side has an expert and the judge has to decide which one to believe.

So what happens if you simply do not have the money to hire an expert and the court will not order the other party to advance those expenses? This can create a very difficult situation depending on the facts of your case. While you and your attorney may wish to present the case one way, if there are not sufficient funds, you will have to make do with what you have. It may also be an incentive to try to settle the case outside of court without being forced to rely on expert testimony. If financing your litigation is going to be a major hurdle to the success of your case, you need to discuss your options with your attorney sooner rather than later.

Photo courtesy of Brad Shorr

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