Co-authored by Carrie M. Babiasz
A family law expert witness can provide a critical function in today’s legal landscape, their usage growing as different elements of litigation become more and more specialized. This is particularly true in family law. With increasing caseloads, family law attorneys have a number of items to consider, with a family law expert witness available to assist during the process. At The Expert Institute, we’ve noticed a particular trend with regards to family law and have provided thousands of attorney’s with a family law expert witness. Because of this, we highlighted five family law expert witness types.
In custody evaluations, psychologists are often called on as experts to perform fitness and custody evaluations. Often, psychologists will be expected to evaluate the parties’ relationships with the child, or children, and each other. In such cases, the psychologist would then make a recommendation to the court based on his or her findings as to which party should retain or gain custody of the child(ren). This process can be very time consuming and expensive.
A psychologist may also assess the fitness of the parents for similar custodial purposes, where they would assess the mental health and parenting capabilities of the parties in order to determine whether a person is fit to be custodian to the child or children at issue. Fitness evaluations generally require less time and money than do custodial evolutions.
Overall, experience is a key factor, with most courts acknowledging education, training, and/or supervision, specifically in the areas of child and family development, child and family psychopathology, and the impact of divorce on children, as being determinative of the psychologist’s ability to act as a reliable and relevant family law expert witness.
Psychiatrists are generally used for custody and fitness evaluations as well, and the family law expert witness testimony given by a psychiatrist is similar to that of a psychologist. One area that tends to serve as a distinction is the assessment of a parent’s health. Because child custody battles may include questions about a parent’s chemical dependency, sexual proclivities, or psychiatric illnesses, these cases may require an evaluation of the parent’s health as well as the needs of the children. A psychiatrist should be familiar with the particular family’s dynamic, as custody evaluations turn on a child’s future demands, needs, and best interests. Psychiatrists serving as expert witnesses should specialize or spend additional training specializing in areas of child and adolescent psychiatry, for instance, if they want to serve as an expert witness in a custody dispute.
Clinical Social Workers
Again there is overlap in the expert testimony sought from social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists. Frequently, social workers will testify in custody and visitation evaluations, termination of parental rights, sexual abuse of a child, and domestic violence. Generally, there are two types of social workers: direct-service social workers, who help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, and clinical social workers, who diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. As with all experts, experience in the field and a reputation for ethical practice is of utmost importance.
Physicians / Pediatricians
Pediatricians may be qualified as expert witnesses, with one case stating that a pediatrician’s testimony was admissible to establish the possibility of rape without physical injury. The same overlap that occurs with family law expert witness testimony in psychiatry, psychology or social work also occurs in pediatrics. Overall, physicians who appear as expert witnesses in custody disputes should have knowledge in child-specific areas, such as pediatrics, and should have spent their residency dealing specifically with elements of pediatric care. Unlike the other experts that are usually relied on for custody and fitness evaluations, physicians are called on to assess physical well-being, or lack thereof, of the child in past or current state.
Property division between spouses is an important issue in divorce proceedings. Determining the correct and proper value of assets and properties of the spouses is common in order to ensure a fair and equitable division of assets. A common example would be an accountant with specific knowledge of the formulas utilized to calculate the present value of various retirement interests. Many valuation questions arise in divorce cases involving pension plans, partnerships, other closely held businesses or corporations, jewelry, and other collectible items that may have been acquired during a marriage. An expert can assess the distinctive nature and values of the separate property of the spouses. For instance, accountants, surveyors, real estate brokers, loan evaluators, consultants, or employees of banks or financial institutions may be considered experts who can bridge the gap of understanding complex financial terms. Financial experts may break matters into simple language for easy understanding by the jury. This can be done by CPA’s and financial planners.
 People v. Houston, 250 A.D.2d 535, 673 N.Y.S.2d 425 .