In many cases, in addition to attorney fees, clients are faced with paying experts Experts can add significant expense to an already stressful financial situation, but they are often essential in proving your case and therefore unavoidable in the context of divorce litigation.
The most common type of expert is a real estate appraiser. Unless the parties can agree on the value of a piece of property (usually the marital home), only an appraisal from a certified appraiser is proof of value to a Judge. Your broker’s opinion of price is not sufficient, nor is a printout from Zillow or similar websites. A standard real estate appraisal will cost approximately $450, but the cost is necessary and unavoidable.
The most comprehensive and expensive type of expert is a custody evaluator. When the parties can not agree on either custody or parenting time, the Judge will most often require them to hire a psychologist or psychiatrist to perform a comprehensive custody evaluation and offer an opinion as to what is the best interests of the child. These evaluations are time consuming and expensive, often running $10,000 or more. They are absolutely necessary, however, if there is a legitimate custody dispute.
Parties may also require an expert to value a pension or other retirement benefits. A traditional pension is worth substantially more than the total of the contributions by a party, and an actuarial expert is required to set a present day value on the future benefits that may have accrued during the marriage. Only a formal valuation from a qualified expert will be considered evidence for this purpose. The statement from your pension administrator or benefits office will not suffice for litigation purposes and usually does not set a present value regardless.
Parties may also require the use of a forensic accounting expert to investigate finances or value a business interest. If a spouse or partner is the owner in a business, or is self-employed, his or her ownership in that business may have a marital value that is subject to equitable distribution. The only way to quantify that value is to hire a forensic accountant to provide an expert opinion to the court. This is a complicated process that requires skill, training, and expertise and choosing the correct forensic accountant can be the difference between substantial equitable distribution and none.
In addition to these experts, parties may need experts for the purpose of valuing other assets. These can include collectibles such as memorabilia, guns, antiques, furniture, or artwork. What a party paid for something is not necessarily representative of current value, and only an experienced expert will credibly convince a Judge as to what something is worth so that the value can be apportioned fairly.
In short, don’t be short-sighted when it comes to hiring experts. The long term gain can far outweigh the short term costs.