Hiring a mutual neutral evaluator
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Because divorce generates such intense emotions, divorcing spouses rarely have accurate perceptions, of what they own, what it's worth, whether their own or the other parent's parenting skills are good or bad, or much of anything related to their divorce case. That is, what divorce clients report is rarely accurate and never complete.
Because lawyers get their information from their respective clients, the lawyers' perspectives are also inaccurate, unless the lawyers take extra measures to gather balanced information. To help lawyers obtain more accurate information, in family court we use what we call, "neutrals."
For example, expert witnesses such as appraisers, accountants, psychologists, occupational counselors, etc. are often needed. The common practice used to be for each side to hire his and her own expert. The dueling experts were sometimes called, "hired guns."
In 1986, the family court judges in Albuquerque told lawyers we didn't find hired gun experts very believable. We suggested appointing one, neutral expert. Because the expense of hiring experts is almost always a hardship for divorcing parties, everyone agreed that one, neutral expert was a good plan. We call them "706-experts" after the rule of evidence that permits this procedure. The parties always have the right to also hire their own experts if they disagree with the 706-expert, but they rarely do.
Because 706-experts are neutral, divorcing spouses are often willing to accept their opinions to settle cases. Some of our "regular" experts have found the neutral role so satisfying they have gotten mediation training so they can be more effective settlement facilitators.
Another kind of neutral we use frequently in family court is called a Guardian Ad Litem. Our law allows the judge to appoint a lawyer for the children in contested custody cases. As with 706-experts, parents often see these guardian-lawyers as nonpartisans who can help settle their disputes. But, sometimes they don't.
Some guardian lawyers have experienced threats from angry parents, and even complaints filed with the Disciplinary Board.
In response, we have conducted seminars to teach guardian-lawyers how to cope with one of the parents getting angry about the guardian's opinions or recommendations. Any lawyer who wants to be a family court guardian needs special education. It is rewarding work, but it can be frustrating and even treacherous. Still, we have dozens of lawyers willing to be appointed guardians ad litem for children, and they do a great service.
By using neutral expert witnesses and neutral guardian lawyers, divorcing families can save many dollars and a lot of heartache.
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