By: Johanna E. Blumenthal
An expert is somebody who is uniquely qualified by his/her education, knowledge and experience to offer opinions regarding matters that are scientific, technical or that require specialized knowledge. See C.R.E. Rule 702. Although any witness could potentially by certified as an expert by the court if he/she possess the requisite education, knowledge and experience, not every witness can offer expert opinions to the court.
In some family law cases, hiring an expert is crucial to the success of your case. This is particularly true when your case turns on a fact that requires an expert opinion (an opinion that is based upon specialized knowledge). For example, if your case is based upon a showing that your child’s emotional development is being substantially impaired, you will likely need a developmental psychologist to offer an expert opinion regarding this and why this is the case.
Even if your case does not strictly need an expert, many cases benefit from the use of experts as expert opinions can be useful to: 1) facilitate settlement (when the impasse between the parties is being caused by a dispute that an expert opinion can resolve); 2) offer recommendations and solutions (when the parties are truly unsure what is correct or best under the circumstances); 3) facilitate the admission of evidence in the court proceeding (when you need to get into evidence hearsay statements of a minor, a minor’s therapist or even just consolidate a lot of information into a more digestible format) and/or 3) bolster one party’s position. While the use of experts flows from C.R.E. Rule 702, in most family law cases, C.R.C.P. Rule 16.2 is going to govern timing in terms of disclosing experts for court.
Types of Experts
The following types of experts are commonly appointed in divorce cases.
- Real Property Experts:
- Appraisers are the most commonly appointed real estate expert in divorce cases. Appraisers are hired to determine historical and present-day fair market values for real property.
- In some cases, the parties need to determine what the fair market rental value for a property is. This can come up if one party is living rent free in a home that a third party owns or when one party will be keeping a rental property or in some other circumstances.
- Financial Experts
- If one or both parties own a business, there may be a need to determine the fair market value of the business.
- If one or both parties own separate property that has been exchanged from one type of asset to another throughout the marriage, a separate property tracing expert may be needed.
- Not all assets are treated the same for tax purposes. For this reason it is some times needed for a certified public accountant to offer an opinion regarding the tax consequences of various transactions or contemplated transactions.
- It is common to hire a trust expert if either party is a beneficiary to a trust. This trust expert will offer on opinion regarding whether there is a property interest in the trust and, if so, the value of such interest.
- Vocational Evaluators
- The income of each party is important in a divorce as such income is used to determine maintenance (alimony) and child support. However, sometimes the reasonable earnings of a party are uncertain. In such circumstances a vocational evaluation can help resolve this dispute and determine what reasonable earnings are for such spouse.
- Parenting Experts
- A Child and Family Investigator (CFI) is a parenting expert that is appointed to investigate a specific parenting issue and to provide recommendations regarding that issue to the court.
- A Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE) is a parenting expert who will investigate and provide recommendations about parenting to the court. The difference between a PRE and a CFI is that a PRE can do a more in-depth investigation that often includes psychological testing of the parents.
When do Experts Need to be Appointed?
Because each expert will need to gather information in order to provide an accurate opinion, it is important to plan ahead and give the expert enough time to do his/her job. Expert witnesses are by general rule to be disclosed 63 days before a hearing and their reports are due 56 days before a hearing. Although the court might change such deadlines upon request, this timing is ideal when it can be met so that both parties have time to determine if a rebuttal expert is needed and have time to use the report in settlement discussions before trial. Your family law attorney will be keenly aware of these deadlines and should discuss them with you in more detail as needed, or as they approach.
How do I Find an Expert?
Of course, experts can be found through an internet search. However, an internet search does always get you to the best expert for your case and it can often lead you away from a good expert (due to a disgruntled party’s review of them). Expert recommendations can be provided by family law attorneys, professional organizations that deal in family law and by the court.