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Posted on Oct 11 on 2017

It may not be apparent at first glance, but divorces and support disputes often require the assistance of an expert witness, in addition to an attorney.  A case involving any financial complexity often requires that a qualified witness provide information to the parties and to the court on any number of issues.  

For example, if a divorcing couple owns a business, that property – normally not divisible between the parties – will have to be accounted for.  The spouse who is operating the business will most likely continue to operate it after the divorce.  The other spouse is entitled to his or her share of the value of the business at the time of the separation.  Business valuation experts, and forensic accountants who have that additional qualification, are often employed to determine what the value of the business is. And oftentimes, the value for family purposes is not consistent with what the business could be sold for on the open market.  In fact, businesses such as professional practices often cannot be sold on the open market, as clients are hiring the owner/operator for their individual professional abilities and without the owner, no one would hire that firm. At the same time, the business still has a value for property division purposes.

There are other reasons that such an expert witness is often retained. In a situation where someone will be paying or receiving spousal or child support, such experts often opine on the level of income that is available for the payment of support.  While federal law requires that compensation be documented and income tax be paid thereon, people often pay certain expenses out of a business and deduct those expenses from the business gross income.  Nonetheless, those expenses are frequently benefiting the individual owner, not necessarily the business.  The classic example of this is the business owner who deducts all automobile, travel and meal expenses from business income when a good portion of those are incurred for the personal benefit of the owner.  Family law principles hold that this component of business expenses constitutes income available for the payment of support.  Such an expert can quantify the amount of income to be added to the support formula, which can often result in a substantial increase in the amount of support to be paid.  By the same token, such an expert can also assist in defending against claims of that income being available for support purposes when it may not be.

Additionally, these witness can offer expertise on the cost of the standard of living for the married couple and the amount of spousal support, and in some instances, child support, that should be paid. And often, divorce actions involve claims of reimbursement for joint expenses after separation, or the use of joint or separate money to pay liabilities. .

A competent and qualified attorney will have ongoing relationships with such experts and can make recommendations on whom to retain. These attorneys will be able to work in conjunction with the expert in preparing the case for settlement or trial.  Appropriate qualifications and ability to be deemed a qualified expert by a court are paramount here.  If the expert is not credible, there can be more damage done than good.