There is a true art to preparing a witness list for your family law trial. There are always a great number of potential witnesses for any family law trial including expert witnesses. Most often expert witnesses in a family law trial are psychologists or financial experts. It is simply not a matter of calling every witness who may have something to say about your family law situation, but a careful cost-benefit analysis must be undertaken. We always consider three main factors: time, money, and invasion of privacy.
Clients and family law litigants always underestimate the amount of time it takes to hear witness testimony in a trial. What can be easily discussed over a short coffee at the local coffee shop will take four hours of trial time in a Courtroom. It is generally not in our client’s best interest to have extremely lengthy trials as additional trial time is very emotional, stressful, and expensive. In addition, trials that are not completed within the allotted scheduled time can cause excessive delays because more trial time with the same Judge can not easily be found in the Judge’s calendar.
We approach each new potential witness with one big question, “what will this witness add?” While many potential witnesses may have something valuable to say, the additional assistance of that testimony is often marginal. Consider whether a particular witness’ testimony is worth the cost of the additional day of legal services for that extra day of trial time.
The question of whether to engage an expert witness in psychological matters is rarely driven by financial considerations but often should be. Expert witnesses tend to be very expensive and you should be relatively certain that their testimony will be very helpful to your case prior to engaging them. Each expert witness is likely to charge between $10,000.00 and $40,000.00 in professional fees for their research, assessment of your case, preparation to give testimony, and days on the stand. Are you going to spend an additional $10,000.00 in legal fees to earn a Judgment of an additional $2,000.00? Do not forget that whenever an expert witness gets involved, it is likely their testimony will favour one party over the other. The party who is not favoured is likely to want to engage their own expert witness as well as potentially additional expert witnesses to either bolster or discredit the original expert report. This results in a battle of the experts which becomes very expensive, very quickly.
Invasion of Privacy
Another important consideration that is often overlooked by parties anxious to engage a psychologist to testify in their case is the true personal cost of the invasion of your family’s privacy. The question as to whether to obtain a psychological expert witness is a very important and strategic trial decision that should be made in close consultation with your family law lawyer. Remember that your lawyer can guide and advise you but is not the expert on your own ability to withstand emotional stress and pressure. You must work with your lawyer to make decisions that are comfortable and right for you.
A typical expert parenting report or assessment will involve many hours of clinical interviews in the psychologist’s office with all parental figures in the children’s lives as well as clinical interviews with the children. Psychologists often also interview the children’s teachers and other school personnel, doctors, activity leaders, and others who are involved with the children. The expert will delve into each and every parenting decision made by all parties and nitpick and critique parenting decisions and techniques.
The resulting parenting reports can be very difficult for you, your family, and your children. Unfortunately, it is often the case that when there are significant psychological problems uncovered by the parenting expert, there is ultimately little that can be done to repair the damage.
Before agreeing to any type of psychological parenting assessment, think very carefully about whether you are willing to open up your life to such scrutiny and judgment. The emotional toll of such involvement can be severe and long lasting.
Of course, these are just some of the many considerations regarding potential witnesses. Decisions about choosing witnesses are critical and should be carefully made with your lawyer.