In child custody cases, certain individuals can be asked to provide an expert opinion to the court regarding parental fitness, custody, financial matters, and the like. An expert is someone who has specialized knowledge in a certain area and is qualified by skill, experience, training, or education to assist the judge in understanding the issues.
Experts are typically authorized to review and receive information, records, and reports concerning all parties involved. He or she will prepare a report with recommendations. The expert may have their deposition taken at the request of a parent and may be subpoenaed to testify at trial.
The court may also choose to appoint its own expert to assist in the court’s decision.
Child Custody Experts
A child custody expert is a neutral evaluator, usually a clinical psychologist, whose role is to determine the best interests of the child and to make recommendations to the court regarding custody and parenting time. He or she will conduct a complete evaluation of the parties, including psychological testing, interview the parents and the child, and evaluate the interaction between the child and both parents. The evaluator may opine as to what custody arrangement he/she believes to be in the best interests of the child.
Parental Fitness Experts
When parental fitness is at issue, a parent may request that a physician (or physicians) conduct a physical or mental examination of the other parent. These examinations will only be ordered by the court if the requesting parent shows good reason for the examination. The examining physician will likely be qualified as an expert and can be asked to give expert testimony regarding his/her findings.
The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines allow for a court to consider a parent’s earning capacity in lieu of actual income under certain circumstances. When a parent’s income is at issue for child support purposes, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or other financial professional can provide expert testimony as to what that parent could reasonably earn in Nebraska given his/her training, skill set, and work history.
Expert testimony and opinions at trial are generally afforded more weight than lay witness testimony (e.g., the parents’ testimony). It is also not uncommon for each parent to have his/her own expert, and a “battle of the experts” may ensue. Expert testimony can make or break a case.
When preparing your custody case for litigation, it is important to consider who will testify and what voice the judge will find compelling. Experts are frequently relied upon, and their opinions can be critical to the outcome of your case.