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2014: Privately Retained Experts and Their Role in Legal Separation, Divorce and Paternity Cases in San Diego


In many cases in San Diego Superior Court, trial outcomes for paternity, legal separation or divorce are decided by expert witnesses and they can be an excellent resource for information and qualified opinions as well. Expert witnesses have their own individual licenses and they also have to qualify, to testify, as an expert. It is crucial to choose an expert who has qualified in San Diego Superior Court in a previous legal separation, divorce or paternity case to insure that their opinion will be considered by the Judge. The Judges, while expert in family law, may not be experts in business evaluations, division of some assets and debts, earning ability of parties and values of assets or debts. In these cases, many parties choose an expert mutually.


A Special Master, in San Diego Superior Court, is an attorney who is appointed by the Court to assist with written recommendations in a divorce, legal separation or paternity. There are full time special masters in San Diego who accept these appointments. The Special Masters will meet with both sides and try and will prepare their written recommendation if the parties cannot settle their matter. The Special Masters will, if needed, testify at time of trial as an independent neutral. At times, as well, the Special Master may involve other experts to assist them.


A Forensic CPA is one who will be able to assist in family law issues such as division of debts and assets as well as income available for support. Income available for support {whether child and/or spousal} is different under a family law analysis than under the IRS for deductions. In family law, these are called “add backs”. In addition, if there are issues of tracing which are complicated, then a Forensic CPA can be of invaluable assistance. For example, if you used your separate property assets [from either prior to date of marriage or during marriage] to contribute to community property assets {such as a downpayment on a house}, then you may be entitled to a reimbursement absent a written waiver of the reimbursement right. It may also be necessary to trace through accounts which can be very difficult and time consuming. Depending on the amounts involved, the costs for a Forensic CPA may be an investment and not an expense. Once you know the legal theories, then you can consider an expert. This is a very complicated area of the law.


What is the community property business worth? Do both spouses work in the business or only one or neither? Are there employees? What are the gross sales and gross expenses? If one spouse or both spouses work in the business, what would be a comparable wage for that position. What income is being taken and is that the same as income available for support? These are all questions which need to be answered in addition to many others in a business evaluation. There are cases where the Special Master is also the evaluator. There are Special Masters available in San Diego County.


In San Diego, for custody disputes, the parties must attend mandatory Family Court Services. These are staffed by Licensed Clinical Social Workers who are hired by the County of San Diego to meet with parents and try and get them to reach agreements. If no agreement, then {as San Diego is a recommending County}, the Mediator prepares a Written Recommendation and a copy is given to both parents and to the Court. The Court follows these Recommendations, statistically, the vast majority of the time. If you do not agree with the Written Recommendation and, for example, your case involves a move away motion, then one strategy is to ask for a 730 evaluation and there are several professionals available in San Diego County.


What happens when one or both of the parties are not employed at all or not employed to their full capacity? Both child and spousal support calculations, whether by the Disso Master in Family Law Court or the program used by the San Diego DCSS, uses the gross income. What is one of the parties is in school trying to obtain a degree or has been out of the work force for many years? While support is at issue, either party can ask for a vocational evaluation. This is completed by a licensed professional pursuant to the Family Law Code and will give an earning ability for support purposes. The can, many times and especially in long term marriages, be an investment and not an expense for the party who requests. There are vocational evaluators in San Diego.


Appraisers in San Diego can appraise both real and personal property. Real property appraisals are most often used when one of the parties wants to “buy out” the other party. It is recommended to try and obtain a mutually agreed upon appraiser as, if you do not agree, this can lead to a dispute as to value. Of course, the spouse who keeps the real property would like the value for community property division purposes to be as low as possible with the spouse who is getting compensation for their community property interest would like the value to be as high as possible. For personal property, in most cases, appraisals would be an expense and not an investment as the Court values not at the amount purchased by the fair market value as of date of separation or trial. Many compare the value in family law court to a “fire sale”. There are appraisers for both real and personal property in San Diego.


Doppelt and Forney, APLC has worked with experts in all of the above areas. Their local experience with these experts can be invaluable in assisting with goals and the outcome of family law cases. If your family law case requires an expert, do not hesitate to contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC and you can ask, during your free in-person or virtual consultation, what experts would be recommended for your individual case and why and the Law Firm has worked with experts in all of the above areas. Please feel free to make your appointment today.

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Dear Roy, I would like to thank you and all team members as well as office staff for helping me defend in this case. It has been a difficult time for me during the last couple of weeks, and now because of this success result, I am able to move forward with my new chapter of life, even a little late at this age!!! Again with much appreciation, I wish you all to continue to do the same with a big heart as it was with me, in helping those who are in need of your professional services. W.
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