The Role Of Expert Witnesses In Divorce

Expert Witnesses In Divorce

Expert witnesses can play a pivotal role in divorce cases, even though most people settle financial and child-related disputes outside of the courtroom. The complexity of unravelling a couple’s life together often requires the opinion of an independent expert who is emotionally distant from the dispute. Expert witnesses can provide clarity and certainty in terms of a party’s finances, and insight into the mental health of one or both spouses and assist Solicitors and the Court with ensuring that the best interests of any children involved in the divorce remain the paramount consideration for everyone involved.

The Role Of Expert Witnesses In Divorce

What types of expert witnesses are instructed in divorce cases?

Depending on the type of issues being disputed and/or legal matters that need to be decided in a particular divorce case, the following expert witnesses may be instructed by the parties:

  • Forensic accountants – in cases where one party has not made a full and frank financial disclosure and their spouse suspects that they are hiding assets, a forensic accountant may be asked to delve into offshore trusts, international banking transactions, and pierce corporate veils to uncover whether certain assets exist and should form part of the financial settlement. Forensic accountants can also provide expert business valuations in high-net-worth divorce cases.
  • Psychologists – where there are accusations of parental alienation or child abuse, a psychologist can evaluate both adults and children to determine whether or not the allegations are true. A psychologist expert witness can also be asked to provide an assessment if one of the parties to the divorce is mentally incapacitated or is suffering from a psychiatric condition.
  • Social worker expert witnesses – in cases where there has been a serious breakdown in parental relations to the point where the children of the relationship are adversely affected, an independent social worker expert witness may be needed, especially in situations where there are serious safeguarding concerns and child services is working with the family.

What is an example where an expert witness has been instructed in a divorce case?

In the recent case of SC v TC [2022] EWFC 67, neurology and occupational therapy expert witnesses assisted the Court with understanding the medical conditions of a husband who had signed a Post-Nuptial Agreement that gave his wife 80 per cent of the matrimonial assets if they divorced. The husband had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease and required specialist housing needs and ongoing home care. If upheld, the Post-Nuptial Agreement would have left the husband in “a predicament of real need”, with his wife comfortably provided for, and this would be fundamentally unfair.

His Honour Judge Hess reviewed the expert opinions regarding the presentation of the husband’s thinking and decision-making at the time he signed the agreement and concluded that “though [the reports] falling short of any suggestion that the husband lacked formal mental capacity to sign the agreement at that time, [they] create some significant question marks over what was really going on in his head.”

The Court held that:

“In summary on this area of the case, I have reached the conclusion that it would be wrong for me to place weight on the Pre-Marital Agreement. Not only was it very much to the husband’s disadvantage in financial terms, I have reached the overall conclusion that, at the time that it was signed, he was a vulnerable person (in the ways described above) and the wife rather took advantage of that vulnerable situation to gain a substantial financial advantage.” [33]

Wrapping up

The case of SC v TC illustrates the diverse ways expert witnesses are required to support the Court in divorce cases and wider family law matters. Experienced expert witnesses also assist Family Law Solicitors in understanding complex tax issues that can often arise when negotiating a financial settlement in high-net-worth divorce matters and uncovering dispersed or hidden assets.

Concerning negotiating arrangements for children following a divorce, expert witnesses can provide Solicitors and/or the Court with a pragmatic assessment of the family situation to ensure that any decisions are made with the welfare of the child front and centre of all considerations.

How can our experts help?

At Expert Court Reports, we have several independent social worker experts and a forensic accountant expert who can provide evidence in divorce law matters. Our team can also provide expert reports on neurological as well as psychological matters.

Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies, including the police, probation services, prisons, third-sector organisations, and private clients.

To discuss any issues raised in this article, please call us on 01865 587865, email, or request a call by completing our online form.