DOMESTIC RELATIONS PROCEEDINGS AND VARIOUS POTENTIAL EXPERTS:

While a Dissolution of Marriage proceeding in Colorado can be completed in as little as 91 days, it is more typical for a case to take between six months to one year.  This additional time is often due to the need to involve various experts.  A complete understanding of the potential experts involved in a family law matter can help ensure your case is completed as quickly as possible.

The need for experts may come from an unresolved issue with parenting time, disagreements regarding a spouses’ earning capacity, or concerns regarding the value of a business.  When parties decide they are no longer in a place to stay married, finding common ground and peace in the chaos can seem near impossible. This is where the assistance of an expert can be extremely useful in resolving family law disputes relatively amicably.

Domestic relations cases utilize a number of different experts for a wide variety of matters. Below is an outline of some of the most commonly used experts and a general explanation of how they may be useful in resolving your case.

Mediator: A mediator is simply a third-party that attempts to help people involved in a conflict come to a mutual agreement. In most counties in Colorado, the Court will require the parties to attend mediation in an effort to prevent the need for time-consuming and costly litigation. If a party is able to attend mediation and come to an agreement on all outstanding matters, the Court will allow them to complete their divorce proceeding with very little involvement by the Court. Mediators have a wide range of backgrounds and skill sets.  When deciding which mediator to use for a domestic relations matter, it is vital to look for a mediator with specific experience in resolving family law disputes.  A party to a divorce would be wise to select an attorney or former judge with extensive family law experience as their mediator. 

Real Estate Appraiser:  One of the most common disputes during a divorce proceeding arises when one party wishes to remain in the marital home.  In most cases, this will require the party to “buy-out” the other parties’ interest in the home.  In order to determine a fair “buy-out” price, the parties must agree to a fair market value for the home.  Naturally, the party wishing to remain in the home will assert a relatively low value, while the party receiving the “buy-out” will want to assign the property a higher fair market value.  To resolve these types of disputes, many parties to a divorce proceeding will utilize the services of a professional real estate appraiser.  While the opinion of a real estate appraiser is not binding on a court, a professional appraisal performed by a qualified expert can go a long way towards allowing the parties to reach a settlement, or if necessary, to present powerful evidence regarding the value of the property to the Court at trial. 

Parenting Coordinator/Decision Maker (PCDM): A Parenting Coordinator (“PC”) is a mutually agreed upon third party that assists families with resolution of disputes regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities and in implementing the terms of the parenting plan.  The PC can develop guidelines for communications between the parties, inform the parties as to appropriate resources, and assist the parties in developing strategies to minimize conflict.  Notably, while a PC can try and assist the parties in resolving disputes, a PC is not authorized to resolve the dispute themselves.  This is role is reserved for a Decision-Maker (“DM”).  A DM fulfills many of the same roles as a PC, but with the additional ability to actually make a binding decision regarding a disagreement if the parties are unable to reach an agreement on their own.     Because the roles of a PC and DM are similar and often overlap, parties to a domestic relations proceeding may see the roles combined as a “PC/DM”.  A PC/DM can be useful in resolving post-decree issues that are too minor to justify involving attorneys/legal system, but nevertheless require resolution.  Frequent subjects on which PC/DMs are involved included choice of school for the minor children, disputes regarding extracurricular activities, medical issues, and travel issues.

Child and Family Investigator (CFI)/Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (PRE): A Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”) or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (“PRE”) is usually a licensed mental health professional with specialized knowledge in the field of childhood development. Typically, a CFI or PRE is appointed by the Court when the parties are unable to agree on parenting time and/or decision-making responsibility for the minor children. The CFI/PRE will investigate the disputed issues, meet with the parties and the children, contact collateral witnesses, and issue an expert report detailing their recommendations as to how to allocate parental responsibilities in the children’s best interests.  A CFI is the less intensive option and has a maximum fee of $2,750 per case.  The PRE process is more intensive and time-consuming.  There is no maximum fee for a PRE.  With many PREs charging between $200 and $350 per hour, it is not unusual for PREs fees to exceed tens of thousands of dollars.  The PRE process is typically utilized in cases with serious concerns regarding a parties’ mental health, drug/alcohol issues, or domestic violence, whereas the CFI process is more appropriate when parties have minor disputes regarding parenting time or decision-making. The benefit of a CFI/PRE in the dispute resolution process cannot be understated. These professionals are often essential to avoiding costly litigation, and furthermore, often lead to a more hand-tailored parenting plan that benefits the minor children.

Vocational Evaluators: A Vocational Evaluator is an expert that helps determine a party’s reasonable earning capacity from appropriate employment. It is not uncommon for one party to have left the workforce for some period of time during a marriage or to be voluntarily under-employed.  This can lead to disputes regarding maintenance and child support, as these calculations are based on the parties’ respective incomes.  A Vocational Evaluator meets with the subject of the evaluation, gains an understanding of the subject’s skills, abilities, training, and qualifications, then reviews the current labor market to determine a reasonable earning capacity.

Business Valuator: A Business Valuator is an expert that is used to establish the potential value of a business.  This type of valuation is needed when parties’ to a marriage own businesses either together or individually. A business can often be the single largest asset in a divorce proceeding, and it is crucial to obtain an expert opinion as to the value of any business asset.  The valuation of a business is a highly complex task requiring the services of a professional.  The income, assets, liabilities, and growth prospects can all impact a business’s valuation, and it is difficult if not impossible for parties to value a business without the assistance of a trained professional.

 

Submitted by Joshua E. Anderson