When a couple files for a divorce in Florida, the court has ultimate authority in declaring whether the parties’ marriage has legally ended. However, divorce cases involve more than whether the marriage has legally come to an end. Issues such as the division of marital property, spousal support, and the organization of parenting time and parental responsibilities are all important matters that the court must resolve before rendering its final judgment of divorce.
Because many of the primary issues in a divorce case may deal with sophisticated concepts of property ownership and finance, it may be necessary for a party to rely on the testimony of a witness with specialized education and background concerning a critical issue of the litigation. Such witnesses are known as expert witnesses and are often help to these issues.
In a divorce case, expert testimony is often beneficial in the following proceedings:
- Valuing marital assets for equitable distribution
- Valuing legal services for attorney’s fees
- Analyzing finances spousal and child support
- Developing parenting plans
QUALIFICATIONS OF EXPERTS
Unlike other witnesses, the opinions of experts may be relevant to certain issues in a divorce case. Whereas the court probably will not admit the opinions of non-expert witnesses—also known as “lay witnesses”—the opinion of a qualified expert may be admitted in court as evidence.
However, before getting to the opinion testimony of an expert, a party must first lay a “foundation” or “predicate” that demonstrates that the particular witness is an expert.
To lay a foundation for expert testimony in Florida, a party can question the purported expert witness about the following:
- Their education in their particular field of expertise
- Their training in their chosen profession or field of study
- Their professional background
- Any certifications they achieved in their profession or field of study
- Other relevant work experience showing the witness to be an expert in their field
TEST FOR ADMITTING EXPERT TESTIMONY
In addition to proving the qualifications of an expert witness, the testimony offered by the witness must qualify as admissible expert testimony under Florida’s evidence code.
Under Florida Evidence Code § 90.702, the court may admit expert testimony as evidence if the following criteria are met:
- Specialized knowledge will assist the court in “understanding evidence or determining a fact in issue”
- The expert’s testimony is based on “sufficient facts or data”
- Their testimony is “the product of reliable principles and methods”
- The expert has “applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.”
However, it was not until recently that the current test regarding the admissibility of expert testimony was adopted in Florida. Until last year, Florida courts applied a stricter analysis for admitting expert testimony as outlined in the case U.S. Supreme Court cases Frye v. the United States, which held that expert testimony based on sufficiently established and accepted scientific methods.
Then, in 2019, the Florida Supreme Court decided to adopt the more flexible standard regarding the admissibility of expert testimony featured in the U.S. Supreme Court case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., which reflects the current test outlined by Florida Evidence Code § 90.702. The court reasoned that adopting the Daubert standard promoted consistency between state and federal courts as well as fairness and predictability in the justice system overall.
CONSULT BAUER LAW GROUP, P.A. FOR LEGAL ADVICE
You can benefit from the help of someone with the education, training, and background necessary to help protect your legal rights and interests in a Florida divorce case. At Bauer Law Group, P.A., our legal team has experience dealing with a variety of divorce issues—such as property division, spousal support, and child custody—and other matters involving Florida family law.