Hiring an Expert in Your Family Law Case

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Lawyers love to make jokes about how bad we are at math.  Often those jokes include statements like, “if I were good at math I would have become an engineer” or if “I was good at math and science I would be a doctor not a lawyer.” Nobody likes lawyer jokes more than lawyers, but these statements are not universally true.  There are many lawyers who are good at math.  In fact at the Law Office of Nancy J. Bickford, we have the only certified family law specialist in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant with a Master of Business Administration.  Having an attorney with a strong math and accounting background helps to spot and analyzes issues, but it is in no way a substitute for a financial expert.  When it comes to financial matters, there is no substitute for a qualified financial expert.

In family law, there are many reasons you may decide to use an expert.  Similarly, there are just as many different types of experts you can hire.  You might need an expert to value your family home or a business.  You might need an expert to decide a party’s income, or what custody schedule is best for your kids.  Whatever the reason might be, you need to decide first what class of expert you want.  This blog will address the three “classes” of experts we see in family law.

The Joint Expert (Neutral)

A joint expert, sometimes called a neutral expert, is the most common class of expert used in family law in San Diego.  This expert is appointed pursuant to Evidence Code Section 730 to perform a specific task related to their expertise.  What is special about this expert is they are “hired” by both parties or the Court, thus they have no allegiance or tie to either party.  Their job is to look at the facts of the case and provide an opinion for the Court to consider.

There are positives and negatives to hiring a joint expert.  On the positive side, the cost is usually lower since it is often being shared by the parties – as opposed to both sides hiring their own expert. Though not always, a joint expert can reduce the level of litigation surrounding an issue because of their neutral stance.  Finally, Courts tend to give a joint expert’s opinion more weight because there is no inherent bias in their relationship with the parties.

The big negative with hiring a joint expert is a lack of control with respect to an expert’s opinion.  Since the joint expert has no allegiance to either party, they are required to report their findings fully and accurately, no matter what those findings are.

Party’s Expert (Not Neutral):

A party’s expert, also authorized by Evidence Code Section 730, is hired by only one party.  The job of the party’s expert is very similar to the joint expert.  They are asked to formulate an opinion based on the facts of the case and their particular expertise.  The main difference is with whom their allegiance lies.  They are being hired by a party with the expectation that, if possible, they will formulate an opinion consistent with the hiring party’s theory of the case; otherwise what’s the point.

There are several positives to hiring your own expert.  With your own expert you can have significant impact on the narrative of their report.  That is not to say you can/should hire an expert to lie for you, but in a situation where the facts could go either way, your own expert should tell the story in light of the facts most favorable to your case. Most importantly though, if after analyzing the facts of your case your expert’s findings are not in your favor, you are under no obligation to release their report or findings – except under certain circumstances too detailed for this blog.  You may simply proceed as if the expert was never hired.

As far as negatives go, the cost is higher since you must bear it on your own, and there is a perception that a party’s expert is biased to their party so the court may give their opinion less weight and the other party is more likely to view the findings with suspicion.

It is worth discussing what is sometimes referred to as a “hired gun” expert.  This is an expert that is hired for the sole purpose of developing a report that is favorable to you.  Initially it might seem like a good idea to get a “hired gun” as your experts, but in the long run it rarely works out well.  Most lawyers and Judges know the “hired gun” experts and will view their reports with suspicion.  Furthermore, a “hired gun’s” report is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny from another expert or a lawyer on cross examination.  In that case, not only does your “hired gun” fail to do what they were hired to do, they might have actually damaged your case.  At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford we don’t use “hired gun” experts.  In our experience, we have found that using an experienced, well-respected, and competent expert works out best for our client’s in the long run.

The Review Expert:

The review expert is authorized pursuant to Evidence Code Section 733.  This expert is hired by a party to review and comment on the report released by the joint expert.

The review expert does not do any independent testing/data gathering of the controversy at issue.  Rather they will obtain the testing results/analysis/accounting/etc. created by the joint expert, and then provide their own opinions based on that testing.  Their job is to show the Court that the conclusions reached by the joint expert are wrong.  They accomplish this using the exact same data as the joint expert.  Put another way, their job is to “poke holes” in the joint expert’s report.

Experts are not necessary for every case.  In case when an expert is needed, it is important to hire the right one.  An experienced family law attorney will have relationships with many experts in many different fields and will be able to assist you in choosing the right expert for your case.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding using experts in your case. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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