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Legal Lesson - Experts in Family Law Cases

ABSTRACT:

Expert witnesses are appropriate to use at a hearing or trial if scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining a fact in issue.  A witness can be qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.  An expert may testify as to relevant facts that he has personal knowledge of and may testify in the form of an opinion.

Relevant Rules/Statutes::    Fla. Stat. 90.702, 90.105; Fla R. Civ. P. 1.390(a); Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.390, 12.365.

Applicability:

For family law cases, experts will typically be used to testify regarding medical, psychological, social, financial, vocational, and economic matters.

When can an expert testify as to his opinion?:

An expert can give his opinion on matters in which he has expertise when the opinion is based upon facts which he personally knows, is in response to a hypothetical question, or is in response to facts discloses to the expert at or before trial.

Before an expert can testify as to his opinion, two factual determinations must be made under Fla. Stat. section 90.105.  First, the court has to determine whether the subject matter is proper for expert’s testimony and whether the witness is adequately qualified to express an opinion on the matter.

Expert to determine Value of Marital Assets:

Substantial evidence is required when a court orders the payment of money or the division of property.  An expert can be useful to put on this substantial evidence.

When the marital estate that is being divided is large and complex, it is often necessary that an accountant determine its size and components.  When that happens, the accountant who inventoried the marital property must testify at trial.  Bullard v. Bullard, 385 so.2d 1120 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980).

Expert testifying as to support issues:

Experts can be utilized for multiple issues regarding support.  An expert can be used to show what job opportunities are available to an unemployed or underemployed party to show ability to pay.  Brooks v. Brooks, 602 so.2d 630 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992).

An expert might be necessary to show a spouse has special needs, such as medical treatment or psychological treatment.  Moore v. Moore, 543 so.2d 252 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989).

Experts testifying for parenting plans (social investigations):

When a parenting plan is in issue, the court may order a qualified person to investigate and file a report regarding the fitness of each parent and the welfare of the child.  Fla. Stat. section 61.20.  When the report is used at trial, the person who conducted the investigation may be called to testify as an expert witness.  Landers v. Landers, 429 so.2d 27 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983).

By Kenny Leigh