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Family Matters Require Objectivity

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As family law attorneys seek ways to help their clients conserve their resources and mitigate the stress of a potentially contentious situation regarding the dissolution of a marriage – one option is to have the attorneys for both parties consider engaging a joint neutral expert as this process is especially efficient in matrimonial litigation or shareholder disputes. 

For the litigants, engaging a joint neutral expert can represent a significant financial savings, considering they need to cover the cost of only one expert, the associated document and information production requirements may be less onerous, and one avoids the possibility of dueling opinions eating up additional fees.  While I used to think representing both sides would make it easier to work on an engagement, it has turned out to be far more challenging than I expected. The joint expert must manage the expectations of both parties and their counsel, handle double the correspondence, and maintain a neutral position. Despite the challenges, however, I believe using a joint neutral expert generally expedites a settlement and allows the parties to move on with their lives more quickly.

In addition to the cost efficiencies that should be realized, neutral experts provide added value to the parties because they have access to all of the information produced by the litigants, will not be motivated by competition with an opposing expert, is not biased toward either party, and strives to provide the fairest, most supportable opinion to assist in resolving the dispute. 

In very contentious cases, where the litigants are combative and even the lawyers may be argumentative, the neutral expert can provide a low key, subtle, “sanity check” to the process, and be a neutral resource for both sides.  In addition to focusing on the specific engagement, the neutral expert may also be able to offer assistance on other financial matters.  Sometimes, though, there are instances in which one of the litigants refuses to accept the opinion of the joint neutral expert. Should this occur, said litigant is free to hire their own expert, but obviously the efficiencies of time and expense reduction will be eliminated.

The neutral expert must remember that he or she is serving both clients and their counselors, and cannot show favoritism or bias for or against either side.  It is critical that the neutral expert always remembers his joint role, advocates only for his professional opinion, performs his role in accordance with the requisite professional standards and brings a calm influence amidst the storm while providing a sanity check when emotions get heightened or demands are unreasonable.   

Maintaining neutrality is more challenging for the neutral expert, but it can make the process more efficient and expedite the settlement process for litigants, so they can move on with their lives.

For more information please contact Monica H. Kaden, Director Business Valuations, Sobel EAC Valuations

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