expert witness

How To Get an Expert Witness to Testify in a Family Law Case

As a Chicago Family Law attorney, it is not unusual to have divorce and child custody clients ask me if they can use an expert witness in their case.  The answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no” since an expert witness must meet a number of requirements.   

Requirements for an Expert Witness in Your Case

In order to serve as an expert witness in any capacity (whether a family law case or not) the individual that you are considering calling as an expert must be able to demonstrate significant experience in a field of study recognized as legitimate.  For example, the field of child development may be an area that would fit into the category of a legitimate field of study if you wanted to call a child development “expert” witness in your divorce case involving the best interest of your child.  

Demonstrating Competence and Expertise in the Subject Matter Area

The attorney offering the expert must demonstrate to the presiding judge at trial that the witness is competent in the area of offered testimony and the area of offered testimony is such that an ordinary person would need assistance in understanding the subject matter.  

The offered expert witness may be deemed qualified to testify in your case through:

  • education,
  • skill,
  • training,
  • knowledge,
  • practical experience, or all of these.

As a prerequisite for expert testimony, the offered expert must be able to articulate to the court the underlying method and procedures used in formulating his or her opinion(s) on the precise subject matter at issue.  Such methods could include hands-on experience, literature review, training, and education. There is no clear rule as to the degree of knowledge needed to qualify an expert in a given area of expertise.

Notification and Qualifying Your Expert Witness

Once you have decided that you would like to call an expert witness in child development to testify in court in your case, you have to provide notification of this in writing with the details of this testimony.  You will put your expert witness on the stand and ask them questions to “qualify” them as an expert.  Keep in mind that opposing counsel will also have the opportunity to ask questions if they wish to challenge whether or not your witness should be deemed an expert.  

Questions to Qualify Your Witness as an Expert

You will ask questions that will bring out your expert’s specialty and specializations within their field. The witness’ expertise can be demonstrated through his or her answers to questions focusing on the following:

  • educational degrees held,
  • training and licensing,
  • length of time in the field,
  • positions held in the field, duties and function in the positions,
  • whether or not they teach or lecture in the field of expertise,
  • any Publications in their field,
  • Membership in professional societies/associations/organizations, and special positions within each,
  • Honors, acknowledgments, and awards received in the field.  

You may also ask the number of time they have provided testimony in this field.   Their curriculum vitae will be testified to and introduced into evidence and you would then request that the Court qualify your witness as an expert in the particular field.

Family Law Judge Will Determine the Scope of the Expert Testimony

After you put your expert on the stand and ask the pertinent questions to qualify them as an expert, the trial judge will determine that

  1. The scope of offered expert testimony is such that an ordinary person would need to hear the experts opinion where the ordinary person does not necessarily have the knowledge of the offered subject matter, and
  2. Whether the person offered to give the expert testimony has the necessarily knowledge, training, experience, skill, and expertise in the area where expert testimony is offered.

If you are facing a family law or divorce case and have questions about the trial process be sure to speak with a trusted and experienced family law attorney. We invite you to contact Anderson & Boback to schedule a consultation to discuss your family law or divorce matter including any questions you may have about using an expert witness in your case.

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