A divorce is a deeply personal legal case that unfolds in family court, a specialized area of the civil court system. Therefore, all divorce cases are functionally civil disputes that require formal legal resolutions. When you decide to divorce, the process entails a host of legal proceedings, including property division, child custody determination, and more. As your case unfolds, you may encounter complex issues that you, your spouse, and your respective legal teams cannot address on your own.
If you are planning to divorce in the near future, it’s vital to know what roles expert witnesses may play in your proceedings. Your attorney can help you determine if and when you will require expert witness testimony and help you prepare accordingly. Input from expert witnesses can potentially help you secure greater custody rights, a fairer outcome to property division, or assist you in answering difficult questions your divorce entails.
What Is an Expert Witness?
An expert witness is a credentialed professional who has deep knowledge of a specific discipline. These individuals often play roles in all types of legal cases. They can be called in to testify in criminal court proceedings to help establish a defendant’s guilt or prove their innocence. In civil disputes, expert witnesses can help the court better understand complex technical matters or fully grasp the scope of a plaintiff’s damages. In a divorce case, an expert witness can potentially help a divorcing spouse prove ownership over complex assets, establish their viability as the primary custodian of their children, or provide other valuable insights to the parties involved.
Types of Expert Witnesses in Divorce Cases
No two divorce cases are entirely alike. It’s quite possible that your impending divorce will involve very complex issues that you may not know how to address right away. There are many ways expert witnesses can potentially help you in divorce. Some of the expert witnesses that commonly play crucial roles in divorce cases throughout the Midwest include:
- Medical professionals. You may need to consult an expert witness with particular medical expertise for several possible reasons. For example, if you are attempting to secure alimony from your spouse and are unable to work due to a disability, you may not only need to provide documentation that helps you prove the extent of your disability but also expert witness testimony from a medical professional who can explain why you are unable to work due to your condition. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals can also help the court understand any pertinent medical issues your divorce case includes.
- Social workers. Determining child custody is a crucial function of the family court system. If you are divorcing and have children, the family court must ensure your custody order suits your child’s best interests. Social workers may interview your children to learn about their preferences when it comes to which parent they want to have custody of and where they prefer to live. Social workers are also likely to come into play if a child involved with a divorce case has suffered any kind of abuse from either parent or witnessed domestic violence between their parents.
- Financial professionals. High net worth couples often hold complex assets and investments that are difficult to divide in property division proceedings. If you and your spouse have high net worth, or if you are having trouble providing documented proof of your separate ownership over certain assets, financial professionals can be invaluable expert witnesses. Additionally, if you believe your spouse is hiding assets, you and your attorney may need to consult an expert financial witness to determine the truth of the matter. For example, a forensic accountant can review your spouse’s records to determine whether they have hidden assets to shield them from property division.
- Private investigators. It’s common for marriages to break down due to infidelity and dishonesty. Private investigators are often consulted prior to initiating divorce proceedings when a spouse suspects their significant other is having an affair or doing something else behind their back. The investigator may provide proof of the other spouse’s misdeeds and later testify in the divorce case concerning their findings.
These are just a few examples of the types of expert witnesses who may come into play in your divorce case. If you are unsure whether you will require expert witness testimony, consult your attorney, and they can help you make that determination.
Two Types of Expert Witness Participation in Divorce
There are two main ways an expert witness can potentially contribute to a divorce case: consultation and testimony. Some expert witnesses act only in a consultation role, providing a divorce attorney with a professional interpretation of some aspect of their current case. These expert witnesses will typically generate professional reports concerning their discipline as it applies to the case and help the attorney with the preliminary aspects of the case.
The second way an expert witness can participate in a divorce case is through active testimony. Testifying expert witnesses will undergo depositions or testify on the witness stand concerning specific aspects of a divorce case. This is a more active type of expert witness participation and will generally cost more to secure.
Consult Your Divorce Attorney About Expert Witness Testimony
It’s not uncommon for people to initiate divorce proceedings, thinking their cases are much simpler than they actually are. If you feel blindsided by the sudden appearance of a highly complex or technical issue in your divorce case, consult your attorney to determine how best to proceed in light of this matter. Your attorney may recommend securing expert witness testimony to account for this issue, and they will help you understand what to expect from the expert witness they arrange to participate in your case.
Expert witness testimony is more likely to come into play in a high net worth divorce case, any divorce involving the violation of a prenuptial agreement, or cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. If you have reason to believe you will require expert witness testimony in your divorce, consult an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible to begin working on your case.