I’m often asked (in fact, it shows up on my FAQs page), if can testify as an expert witness if a case goes to court.
Short answer: Yes. Of course.
Now you know as well as I do that most divorces are settled in mediation, outside of the courtroom. So that’s how my days usually play out. In the former, I’m a “financial expert”; in the latter, I’m an “expert witness.” Regardless of the title, I’m the same person: the same expert when it comes to helping women—and attorneys like you who represent them—with the financial side of divorce.
You also know that a case headed for trial sometimes winds up in negotiation, often at the last minute. And vice versa.
But did you know that my involvement might steer that course… favorably for your client?
Sure, it could be that the situation between the spouses is deteriorating as mediation looms near, and that sends it to the courtroom. But it can also be because of the documentation I provide for you and your client. I’ve seen it happen.
Let me tell you about three types of financial and witness expertise I’m often called upon to provide.
- Lifestyle analysis
When it comes to arguing for higher spousal maintenance and especially child-support deviations, you need a baseline from which to start. This is all about determining the family’s lifestyle prior to divorce. That requires all kinds of nerdy investigation and numbers crunching, which I’m great at and, face it, you hate doing.
(One of my favorite quotes: An attorney client of mine once told me: “When I went to law school, they promised me there wouldn’t be any math!”)
My team and I will analyze past bank statements, credit card statements, and the like, and build a profit-and-loss picture of the last few years of the marriage—all in order to arm you with the best possible negotiating leverage.
- Separate property calculations
If you think a lifestyle analysis is complicated, stay tuned for “CSI: Property Tracing.” This is forensic accounting (remember, I’m a CPA) at its most challenging. To do this, I need to create a kind of financial time-machine that lets me see what was brought to the marriage, what accounts and transactions were separate or community property, and then carry them forward from the beginning of the marriage to its end.
- Pension valuation
I won’t take you down the QDRO (or DRO) rabbit-hole here, but suffice to say that this is an area I routinely work on. What’s the current valuation of that pension vs. a future stream of income from it? Answers to questions like these inform your ability to offer, counter-offer, or rebut a buyout scenario.
You and your client need a financial expert (shameless plug: Like me) on your side. I help to save your client time, money (see my guarantee! below), and (when I arm you to avoid trial) avoid the stress of being on the witness stand in front of her ex, the opposing counsel, and the judge. No woman wants to be grilled on that stage, especially when it comes to questions like “What’s the value of this pension?” or “How can you support your request for spousal maintenance of X dollars per month?”
If that doesn’t convince you, think of it this way: If the husband brings financial expertise and you don’t, you and your client are automatically at a disadvantage. (Conversely, if you bring the financial guns and he doesn’t, he’s at a disadvantage.) And if only one party brings a financial expert (or witness) to the mediation (or trial), who is the mediator (or judge) going to believe?
It’s kind of like getting an appraisal on a house. If you get just one, it’s all you have. If there are two, then at least you automatically have a range.
Which gets to “financial opinions.” Not to get too nerdy on you (too late!), but my calculated assumptions for, say, discount rates, inflationary trends, or unknown factors may well differ from other experts’ calculated assumptions; there’s actually a lot of gray area/room for negotiation.
In short, you want as much financial firepower on your side as possible.
Taking a stand
My work is complicated. But it’s my job to make it easy for everyone else to understand. Not long ago, I worked on a case in which the husband’s proposed settlement may have looked reasonable in the here-and-now, but I knew that it would be egregiously inequitable in the future.
So I created a simple graph, like a sideways “V,” comparing the husband’s net worth, vs. the wife’s, over time, based on the husband’s offer. The husband’s line went up: in ten years, his net worth would skyrocket. In the same time span, the wife would be… bankrupt.
It was so clear. So compelling. So simple. The judge could see it easily. The opposing party couldn’t even find anything to challenge.
I was called in to testify in that case. I never even needed to take the stand.