Understanding the Role of the Experts in Family Law

By: Evan D. Schwab

The typical family law proceeding in the Clark County, Nevada Family Court involves a judge, attorneys and the litigants. What many family law litigants are not completely familiar with is the role of the expert in a family law matter. Understanding the role of the experts and how they can be useful can assist clients in achieving the most favorable result possible.

The first important thing to understand when it comes to experts is whom the expert serves. Some experts are appointed by the Court itself and are not beholding to any of the parties. These court appointed experts are, however, often paid for by the parties by order of the Court. Some experts are hired by individual litigants and are retained to provide a report/document or even testify at trial or evidentiary hearing as permitted by the Court. The two most common scenarios in which experts become involved in a family law matter is (1) where complex or large financial issues are involved and (2) where the best interest of the children is being considered.

In a divorce proceeding, there are a number of financial issues that require the services of or where an expert can be beneficial. For instance, it is not uncommon for the value of a business to be an issue before the Court. In many cases, the business is the largest financial asset in the divorce estate. Allegations such as claims that one party is hiding assets in a business are not at all uncommon in family law matters. Forensic accountants typically are both Certified Public Accountants (CPA's) and Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE's). They can be hired be a party or appointed by the Court to determine the value of a business and look for accounting impropriety, community waste or fraud. A major issue in Nevada divorce litigation is what property is community property and what property is the separate property of one of the parties. It is not uncommon for funds to become comingled to the point where a lay person or even the Court does not feel comfortable making legal determinations without the expertise of a forensic accountant. The situations above are some of the examples where an expert in forensic accounting can assist the parties and the Court in resolving property issues in a divorce.

Another scenario in which experts come into play is when the parties cannot agree on a custody or visitation arrangement that is in the best interest of the children and the Court has heard allegations or contentions serious enough that the Court does not feel comfortable making a determination as to custody or visitation without expert opinion. In situations such as these, the Court can order or the parties can agree to employ a child custody evaluator. A child custody evaluator is commonly a child psychologist who has been recognized by the Court as being able to assist the Court in determining appropriate custody and visitation arrangements. A child custody evaluator will often times meet with the parents both individually and together, observe the child playing with the individual parent, and interview the child privately. A child custody evaluator will then be asked to provide their insight, observations and recommendations to the Court to allow the Court to make a decision on custody and visitation issues.

These type of experts are frequently expensive and not necessary in every divorce and custody proceeding. In large divorce cases and extremely contentious custody cases, these experts can serve a useful purpose. The use of experts can help litigants save money on the long-run by cutting out months and years of litigation on complex issues and achieve quicker resolution. Understanding all the tools available will help a client make the best decisions in their individual case.

Evan D. Schwab is an Associate with Kring & Chung, LLP's Las Vegas, NV office. He can be contacted at (702) 260-9500 or eschwab@kringandchung.com.

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