Divorce, experts and a “winning narrative”
One of a divorce attorney’s most important roles is to assemble and manage a team of experts to help support your divorce narrative, your side of the story. Having the best experts who can provide compelling evidence is essential for best results.
Experts can either advise discreetly in the background as consultants or provide direct testimony via deposition or live testimony before a family judge. A wide range of experts are often called upon in Connecticut divorces. Forensic accountants who specialize in tax laws, business valuations and cryptocurrency may be needed. Tracing and dissipation claims often are critical to unravel, organize and present complex financial issues.
Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, are used to perform custody evaluations. Compensation or vocational consultants, real estate appraisers, private investigators, computer experts and other specialty appraisers of fine art, wine, cars or antiques are additional examples of other categories of experts retained in divorce matters.
Coordinating a qualified team of credible experts with experience testifying in court is critical as expert testimony provides the factual and evidentiary foundation on which your story rests. Expert input also helps to inform and design the approach to discovery.
Experts may be called upon to define and/or evaluate:
— Complex income streams (that may affect an alimony award) including restricted stock, phantom stock, carried interest, deferred compensation (subject to vesting) and contingent compensation. Many people in Fairfield County are not straight salary employees and have complicated, variable income streams.
— Complex financial assets such as ownership in private equity investments (limited liability companies, limited partnerships, etc.), venture capital structures and hedge funds, among others; family businesses (with liquidity, valuation, and buy-out challenges); and foreign and unregistered securities and investments.
— Current value of real estate and exotic assets: the primary marital residence, vacation homes, family estates (whether or not they will be sold); exotic property and collections (wine, fine art, cars, horses, etc.).
— Tax consequences of selling securities and/or property (neither party wants a tax liability surprise): enormous tax liabilities may be created through liquidation of particular holdings in investment portfolios if required in the division of assets; tax treatment for things like the “carried interest” associated with hedge funds is complicated and requires expert advice.
— Parenting skills and mental health, particularly as it may impact physical custody and, visitation: A mental health professional might testify to the severity of a parent’s personality disorder or pattern of substance abuse (e.g., narcissistic personality disorder or alcohol abuse) and how it impacts their parenting skills and the best interests of their child. Also, a parent diagnosed with disorders such as bipolar, significant anxiety or substance abuse may be required to undergo a mental health evaluation, rehabilitation, or monitoring as ordered by the court.
— Earning capacity: An earning capacity may be assigned to spouse who is not earning income to his or her full potential. A compensation professional may be hired to interview a spouse and analyze education, experience and skills and then called upon to testify as to that individual’s earning capacity. Assessing income potential is important to the determination of alimony and child support, and is often in dispute.
— Private investigators: Private investigators may investigate infidelity, hidden assets, unfit behavior relevant to child custody and parenting, co-habitation of a former spouse, and criminal history.
Fact patterns in Connecticut divorce are often complex, particularly in the wealthier towns and communities in lower Fairfield County. Presenting a “winning narrative” can hinge on the team of experts assembled to support your claims.
Assembling a customized team of experts to present a winning narrative with substance to help the family judge to see your vision of important issues in your divorce dispute is an important role of the divorce attorney and a key to good results.
Melissa Needle, a lifetime Connecticut resident, is founder of the Westport-based law firm Needle Cuda. She has exclusively practiced divorce and family law for more than 30 years. She can be reached at 203-557-9500 or through the firm’s website, www.needlecuda.com.