Use of Experts in Northern Virginia Divorce Proceedings

Northern Virginia Divorce Case Leads to Trial

iStock_000002910619XSmallWhen you initiate a divorce in Northern Virginia, assuming your family law lawyer requests appropriate relief when the case is filed, the court may have jurisdiction over equitable distribution (division of property), spousal support, child support, and child custody and visitation. If alternative dispute resolution methods, such as collaborative divorce or mediation, do not succeed and your divorce case goes to trial, your Northern Virginia family law lawyer will present your case to the judge. In Virginia, there are no juries in divorce cases.

Different Kinds of Evidence and Expert Testimony in Northern Virginia Divorce Trials

During the trial, the court may consider various forms of evidence, including testimony from witnesses, exhibits, demonstrative exhibits, legal argument by family law lawyers, and testimony from experts. Expert testimony assists the court with issues requiring specialized knowledge or skill to resolve, in family law litigation. Experts can testify on various issues in your Northern Virginia divorce proceeding, including fitness of a parent for custody, a spouse’s job prospects and earning potential, the mental or physical condition of a party, and the value of certain assets, including businesses.

What Makes Someone an Expert?

Experts usually have a combination of academic and professional expertise in a particular area. For example, a mental health professional performing a custody evaluation typically would have professional or doctorate degrees in psychology, experience conducting research in a particular area of child psychology, and perhaps have a practice too. Likewise, valuation experts used in Northern Virginia divorce cases may be performed by individuals who are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs), professionals with Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Science in Finance (MS) degrees, and/or have requisite professional, valuation experience. It is your family law lawyer’s job during the trial to request that the court formally recognize the witness as an “expert.” In doing so, your family law lawyer will ask the witness to testify to his or her qualifications, and the opposing family law lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine your expert regarding his or her qualifications. Once a person is recognized as an expert by the court, they can testify about things that regular witnesses cannot.

Battle of the Experts

Sometimes an expert is required to prove something in your family law case, and other times it is merely recommended that you use an expert. If one party hires an expert in a Northern Virginia divorce case, it is usually advisable for the other party to hire a counter-expert. For example, if you or your spouse owns a business that you contend is marital property, or part-marital property, you probably need someone to conduct a formal valuation to tell you what it is worth. If your family law lawyer hires an expert, the other party’s family law lawyer will likely hire one too. It is very common, that the valuations provided by the experts are not the same. A judge presiding over a Northern Virginia divorce trial in this situation will have to conduct a valuation based on conflicting testimony and evidence. The same result can occur if you have two experts offering opinions regarding custody, or a party’s career prospects.

What Will the Court Do?

The court is not required to accept or reject either or both experts. The judge in your Northern Virginia divorce case is the final decision-maker. He or she will hear the evidence, weigh it and then decide the issues. The judge, in some cases, may even take part of one expert’s testimony, part of another expert’s testimony, and then arrive at a result based on the combination of evidence from the two competing experts. Any number of scenarios is possible if your Northern Virginia divorce case proceeds to trial. Expert reports and ideas can also be very valuable to complete your Northern Virginia divorce through alternative dispute resolution methods, such as meditation or the collaborative divorce process.

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