January 2011 Bar Bulletin
Family Law Experts Add Dynamic to Dissolution
By Dominik Musafia
The expert in a dissolution plays a fundamental role for the family law attorney, both in litigation and collaborative law. The expert provides a quantitative analysis to matters ranging from valuation of pensions and real property to evaluation of vocational and mental health capabilities.
To the litigator, the ultimate purpose in retaining an expert is largely forensic — to place a definitive dollar value on something that is outside of the realm of common knowledge. While the collaborative attorney also needs this fundamental information, the collaborative attorney also seeks a qualitative analysis from the expert.
The Expert in Family Law Litigation
In traditional litigation, the expert witness commonly provides a forensic report, usually supplied in anticipation of ADR/mediation, a few weeks prior to trial. While a pension valuation may be just a few pages, a real property appraisal can exceed 30. Both documents detail the assumptions and reasoning by which the expert has derived the bottom-line number — information that is ultimately sought to complete a spreadsheet detailing division of separate and community assets/liabilities.
If ADR is unsuccessful, parties may choose to bring experts to trial to testify on their behalf. However, it is not uncommon that the client does not meet the expert for the first time, in person, until trial.
The Collaborative Process: The Expert as Team Member
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