Anyone who has been through one will tell you how expensive divorce is - not only financially but emotionally and even physically. Of course, expensive is a relative term and varies by individual, but the theme is a common one. To compound that concern, involve experts.
This felt like an appropriate topic to write on as, in the last few weeks I've had several clients come to me and ask, "Why do I need an expert?" For them, understandably, the cost is one factor. The time and energy required are yet others. Divorce, even under the most amicable circumstances, creates some level of pain. People want out as quickly as possible with as little scathing as possible. The idea of adding another chef to the proverbial kitchen flies in the face of that very sentiment.
Here's what you need to know: lawyers are here to guide you through the legal principles. They come up with and review strategy based on their knowledge of the law and the application of your very specific facts to the existing law. They guide you on principles of alimony, child support, custody and visitation and the distribution of assets.
What they can't do is persuade a decision maker or decision influencer (i.e. judge, arbitrator, or mediator) as to why your spouse is mentally unfit, verify an allegation of substance abuse, or value your spouse's interest in a business.
Television is impaired reality; we all know that. In fact, that's part of the reason we watch. Law shows depict witnesses testifying about all sorts of issues that normally would require expert testimony. This gives the false impression that this is also what happens in real life. And it sometimes does, but not without certain risk.
In family law matters expert testimony is generally limited to mental health professionals (i.e. substance abuse evaluators, forensic child psychologists, certain medical doctors), forensic accountants, employability "experts," real estate appraisers, jewelry appraisers, and art and collectible appraisers. There are certainly others but these tend to be the most common. When parties disagree about the value of their home, a real estate appraisal should be performed. This is simply because the litigants involved in the actual divorce do not have the expertise, experience, or knowledge to value real estate. Even if they did, they are an interested party and their opinion would be viewed as biased. A Google or Zillow search fails to take into consideration many factors that an expert in the field of real estate appraisal would consider. Even a local realtor views a property's value from a different perspective. Hiring an expert with the proper credentials to opine as to the value of the property provides a base off which to work. An expert can be hired jointly, meaning he/she works for both parties, or each party can retain their own independent expert to perform the same or similar task and the results are then compared, scrutinized and debated.
Point being is that it's not wise to show up at trial and tell the judge presiding over your case, "We have a disagreement about the value of the house and I think it's worth X". Your opinion is simply that: an opinion. You want the judge or trier of fact to make a decision based on credible information and evidence. Expert reports, analysis and testimony often do just that. They sway a decision maker or influencer to see facts specific to a certain issue in a certain way.
So yes, while experts can be expensive and perhaps extend the legal process beyond the timeframe you had in mind - there are many benefits to having one, if your case requires it. Working with an experienced, knowledgeable attorney who will guide you through the issues in your case and develop a strategy to best address those issues cannot be stressed enough. If an expert is needed or can be beneficial for a number of different factors, it's important to seriously consider that advice. Cost and/or time alone cannot and should not be the only consideration.
Sandra C. Fava is the editor of the Riker Danzig Family Law Blog and heads the Family Law Practice Group of Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP. Sandra is resident in Riker Danzig's Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Sandra at (973) 451-8453, or firstname.lastname@example.org.