What experts should I have?

It is never too early in your divorce case to begin thinking about experts.  Even when you do not plan to go to trial and want to resolve your issues out of court, you may need to consider the use of experts if you are not sure of the value of your property or whether an unemployed spouse is capable of working.  It is important for not only the court, but for both parties, to have such information to make final decisions concerning their property and support issues.  The most common experts employed in family law cases include: 1) certified real estate appraiser (for valuing real property); 2) vocational expert (for imputing income to an unemployed or underemployed party); and 3) custody evaluator/psychologist (for input on custody issues or ability to work).

You may need other appraisers if you have other valuable assets, which are not real property, that warrant the expense of a professional appraisal, such as a valuable coin collection.  Typically, for vehicles it is sufficient to use the online calculators to prove the value for your vehicles, including the Kelly Blue Book calculator, http://www.kbb.com/, or N.A.D.A.’s, http://www.nadaguides.com/.

If you are going to trial, you will need a certified real estate appraiser to prove the value of the marital home or other real property, unless there is a stipulation to use a tax assessment statement or some other agreed upon value, which are sometimes based on values from www.zillow.com or from a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) prepared by a local Realtor.

A vocational expert is used to establish the income that a party who is not working is capable of making.  If your spouse is not working, you will need to hire a vocational expert or will risk that you will pay more spousal support to meet that spouse’s need.  The law in Virginia generally supports the concept of imputation income, which means that the court will pretend that a party has a certain income for purposes of determining support.  A court will only impute income to an unemployed party if you have a vocational expert that supports such imputation of income or your spouse was recently employed and quit or was fired for cause.  If your spouse has been unemployed for a long time, you will need an expert.  There is a statutory provision in Virginia, Va. Code. Section 108.1(H) that allows the court to require your spouse to cooperate with a vocational evaluation if you request one, and to make an award of the costs of evaluation, but it is your responsibility (though your attorney) to hire the vocational expert to perform the evaluation and report to the court.

A custody evaluator may be necessary if you cannot agree upon a custodial schedule and parenting plan for your children.  Custody evaluations can be quite expensive.  A custody evaluator is a licensed clinical psychologist who is trained to do interviews and evaluate testing results from psychological testing and make recommendations about custodial arrangements.  The custody evaluator will typically generate a lengthy written report which may be filed with the court, and which reports the testing results, input from collateral interviews, and draws conclusions about each parent’s strengths and weaknesses in parenting and how those may impact or inform the decisions concerning an appropriate custodial schedule and parenting arrangement.  If either party has parenting concerns about the other which are based on perceived or actual mental health issues, a custody evaluation may be a good idea.  It can also be helpful if you want the wishes of the children to be considered and/or want a number of witnesses to be interviewed for input who might not otherwise want to testify in court.

Author: Teresa S. Cole