Experts Involved In Divorce Cases

Depending upon the facts and legal issues involved in your divorce, a number of experts may play a role in your case, including a home appraiser, actuary, custody evaluator, business appraiser and vocational assessor.

The most common expert we employ is a home appraiser. In most cases the most valuable asset for division is the marital homestead. If one party elects to remain in the homestead we must calculate the equity in the house to determine the value of the property settlement. Naturally, the first step to establishing equity involves the determination of the market value of the property.

A typical homestead appraisal costs around $350. They take approximately one (1) week to complete. Many clients ask if a realtor’s market analysis can substitute for an appraisal. If the parties agree, a market analysis is sufficient. However, a realtor’s market analysis does not hold the same evidentiary weight as a certified real estate appraisal. For that reason, the appraisal is usually preferred.

Another expert we commonly retain is an actuary. An actuary is an accountant with specific knowledge on the formulas utilized to calculate the present value of various retirement interests. Aside from a house, the most valuable assets that the majority of couples possess are their retirement accounts. Some accounts, such as a 401(k) plan, are easy to value. A recent statement will tell us the value of the account. However, pension interests have a present value as well.

Suppose you are 40 years of age and your union pension indicates that at present you qualify to receive $1,000 per month at age 55. Those benefits, despite the fact they are not yet realized, have an economic value. It is the job of an actuary to calculate that value. Clients are often shocked to realize that their pension interest, in terms of present dollars, totals several hundred thousand dollars.

If the pension interest was accumulated during the marriage, it is subject to equal division. This may be done by a cash off-set or an award of future benefits to each party. If the cash buy-out is contemplated, then we must know the present value of the benefit. An actuary typically charges a couple hundred dollars for their services.

If custody is a contested issue in your case, a custody evaluator will be appointed by the court. This individual typically possesses a degree in psychology or social work. The custody evaluator will meet with each party individually, and meet with them in the presence of the children. They will gather documentation such as medical and school records involving the children. Custody experts often speak with counselors that might be involved with the family. Parents will often refer the evaluator to several acquaintances who can speak of their ability to affectively parent the children.

The process of completing a custody evaluation typically takes several months. Once all of the necessary information is gathered by the evaluator, a report is generated that addresses the information gathered in relation to the standard for an award of custody in Minnesota – the best interest of the child. These reports are often twenty (20) or thirty (30) pages in length and may include painstaking detail about the family situation. The final part of the evaluator’s report includes a series of recommendations. Most often, the court will adopt the recommendations of the evaluator.

There are two types of custody evaluators in Minnesota: court appointed and privately retained. There is no legal distinction between the two, but a private evaluator will typically charge more than $10,000 for their services. In some situations, a private custody evaluation will be done much more quickly than an evaluation conducted by court services. If court services performs the evaluation they, too, charge a fee. But it is typically much less than the fee associated with a private evaluation.

We frequently employ business appraisers to ascertain the present value of a business owned by one or both of the parties to a divorce. There are a number of ways that a business appraiser calculates the market value of a particular business. The evaluator will look at the overall business revenue, profits, assets and marketability of the business.

The cost for a particular appraisal varies depending upon the nature of the business being valued. In most situations, a business appraisal will cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Once the appraisal is concluded, the evaluator will present a written report. The report will include the various formulas utilized for determining market value and offer an expert opinion concerning the value of the business based upon dozens of factors that have been taken into account.

In cases involving spousal maintenance, we often employ a vocational assessor. This individual is asked to evaluate a spouse’s capacity for employment and potential annual earnings based upon their educational background, skills and the market place. The person being evaluated will be asked to spend the day with the vocational assessor. An interview takes place and the individual is asked to complete a series of psychological tests, including the MMPI and other skills tests.

Once the evaluator has opportunity to get to know the individual, they will generate a report that discusses the skills and abilities of the individual, along with a host of potential careers that are available to them. The assessor we retain will take into account market conditions specific to the Minneapolis area. A vocational assessment typically costs approximately $1,500. The conclusions drawn by the assessor provide significant evidence for the court to consider in light of a request for spousal maintenance.

The foregoing experts are the most frequently retained individuals to assist our clients through the divorce process. Certainly there are others, such as vehicle appraisers, psychological experts, chemical abuse experts, accountants and others. The costs associated with retaining many experts is substantial. For that reason, we work very closely with our clients to balance the costs of the involvement of an expert against the benefit that we hope to realize in retaining that individual.