When you go to court in your divorce case, you may think that the key in your case is your factual proof, whether it is proof related to the value or nature of your spouse’s and your assets, the amount of income your spouse and you make (for the purposes of alimony or child support), or how the court should adjudicate child custody and visitation. But there is much more to most cases, including complying with the procedural rules related to how you get your factual evidence before the court. Knowing how to submit evidence in a compliant manner, as well as knowing how to respond when your spouse doesn’t follow the rules, can be as important a part of your case as the facts themselves.
One example of this was a case from Howard County. A couple was divorcing after more than two decades of marriage. The husband, three years before the wedding, founded a wireless technology company that had become very successful. The couple had significant assets, including two homes worth a combined $2.8 million. One of the major issues at trial was the proper valuation of the husband’s business.
In cases like this, there is a specific process that is followed. At first, the judge enters what’s called a scheduling order. That court order has several deadlines, including the deadline for disclosing every expert witness each side plans to use at trial. Expert witnesses also have to file written reports, and these scheduling orders also establish the deadline for submitting those.
Each side is allowed to submit to the other side a set of interrogatories, which are a series of questions that the other side must answer. The husband’s interrogatories asked about the wife’s expert witnesses. The wife mentioned a forensic accountant whom she planned to use to establish the value of the husband’s business. An expert report from this accountant was submitted to the husband, but not until the day before trial, which was well after the deadline.
The husband’s legal team wisely took action. They asked the trial judge to issue an order that would prevent the wife’s forensic accountant from testifying. The trial judge ruled that the accountant could testify as a rebuttal witness, but the wife could not call him to the stand as a direct witness to testify about what he believed the value of the husband’s business was. In many cases, this type of penalty can be a serious setback to the strength of the case of the party who lost that testimony.
The wife appealed, but the appeals court upheld the ruling. The law gives trial judges a lot of discretion in handing down sanctions for failing to follow the rules and deadlines related to the discovery of evidence. In this case, the wife’s failure to produce the accountant’s report on time “was a substantial violation.” The husband’s business was, by far, the most significant asset in the couple’s marital estate, and, due to the delay, the husband’s attorneys did not know what the wife planned to argue in terms of the business’ value until the literal eve of trial. This placed the husband in the unfair position of not knowing the wife’s argument about the business value until the accountant testified in open court. In situations like that, judges are allowed to limit or prohibit expert witnesses from testifying.
There are many parts of your divorce case that require knowing not only the facts of the case but also the law and specifics of procedural rules. For skilled and thorough advocacy upon which you can rely, contact Maryland divorce attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has helped many spouses navigate the legal pathways involved in the divorce litigation process. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Making Sure You Complete the Correct Procedural Steps to Seek the Division of a Marital Asset in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 14, 2016
Divorce Over Age 50 Raises Unique Financial Concerns for Maryland Residents, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2016