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The Importance of Hiring Experts in Family Law Cases

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Hi, this is Todd Burnham, and today we’re going to talk about the importance of using experts. And the first one that comes to mind is a divorce lawyer. This isn’t self-serving. I have a Juris Doctorate, so I’m a Doctor of Law. You don’t know what you don’t know. I don’t go to Google and try to figure out how to set an arm if I break it. And just like medical doctors, not all lawyers are created equally. It’s important to make sure that you pick that expert right off the bat.

Now let’s talk about some other experts. We have forensic accounting. We want to trace some money. We want to find out what this… It’s alleged that the other party is dissipating the marital estate. What happens with dissipating the marital estate is, they’re blowing money on things that aren’t benefitting the marital estate. So, you want to trace it. You want to track that money. That’s forensic accounting. This is one example.

You allege that your spouse is voluntarily under-employed, and they’re trying to get maintenance from you. So then, you get a vocational evaluator. You hire someone. They interview your spouse. They come back and say, “Aha, yes, you’re correct, Client. This person could actually make $80,000 and not $40,000.” And so, instead of you paying your spouse maintenance, your spouse is paying you maintenance. And the way that I look at these things is, the juice has to be worth the squeeze. How much are we going to get by hiring that expert in exchange for paying that expert “x”. That’s the value of experts.

Your spouse owns a business, and it’s a marital business. It was created during the marriage. And the spouse is saying, “The business isn’t worth anything.” And you’re not an expert. And your lawyer is not an expert in valuing the business, some ice cream sandwich shop. “Oh, it’s just a hobby business.” “Well, you know, they’re actually writing a book, and they’re about to be published in Barnes & Noble and Amazon.”

All of those things come into play, and that creates a value to the business. And, typically, you’re going to be entitled to half that. So, you want a business valuator, someone that’s going to come in, analyze the business, and then be able to create a report and/or testify in court that, “No, even though on the sworn financial statement it says that the value of the business is zero, it’s actually $500,000.” The juice is worth the squeeze.

If it’s a widget making factory and there’s just no value to it, you’re going to be able to figure that out without hiring a business valuator. Lawyers are generally competent and can say, “Yeah, that’s probably not worth it.”

The big ones that come to mind for me are the PRE and the CFI. PRE, when we’re talking about children, Parental Responsibilities Evaluator, versus a Child and Family Investigator. Think of a PRE as a Child and Family Investigator on steroids. They’re going to do psychological testing. I often prefer PREs when we’re dealing with an opposing party who is a narcissist. Narcissists are the guys or the women that are great in person, but then when they’re at home, they’re controlling, abusive, blame you for everything. We all know the narcissists. Narcissists are really good at tricking people. So, you want someone that’s going to do psychological testing.

A lot of times, you’re not going to need that. And so, PREs can cost upwards of $10,000 or more over the course of a case. CFIs are flat rates unless there are some extenuating circumstances or they have to travel. But you’re going to get the same value from a CFI over a PRE.

This is just kind of an overview of the use of experts. You don’t always need them, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of over-preparation rather than under-preparation. I’d rather lose $2,000 and get a CFI to come in and say that both parties are fit than to give away 50/50 only to find out that there’s psychological harm and trauma that’s occurring in the other parent’s household, and now you have to spend tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars to undo that agreement when you could have had it done right the first time by hiring an expert. I hope that helps.

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