How Avoiding Procedural ‘Missteps’ Can Be Critical to Success in Your Maryland Divorce Litigation

In a very recent case opinion announced by the Court of Special Appeals, the court wrote that “[s]ometimes one misstep early in a case can have repercussion for the rest of the case.” Those kinds of damaging missteps can include, among other things, failing to comply with all the pretrial deadlines the trial court sets. Whether it is managing deadlines, accumulating evidence, securing expert witnesses, or tending to any of the other essential “details” that go into a successful family law case, make sure you’ve retained the services of an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer to handle your matter.

These things may sound small, but a shortcoming — even just a single one — potentially can have massively harmful results, as a recent Montgomery County case demonstrates.

R.Z. and D.Z. were parents going through a child custody case. In any kind of civil case in Maryland, all parties will receive something called a “scheduling order.” This is an order that sets various dates and deadlines, like the trial date, pre-trial conference date, discovery deadlines, and so forth. One of the things generally included in these kinds of orders is the deadline for parties to designate their expert witnesses.

The judge in R.Z. and D.Z.’s case appointed a licensed clinical social worker to serve as a custody evaluator. When the deadline for naming experts arrived, the mother named only the court-appointed custody evaluator. The father did likewise.

The social worker did her evaluation and recommended that the mother receive primary physical custody and tie-breaker decision-making authority. Two weeks after the evaluator sent out her report, the father decided he needed an additional expert to rebut the opinions of the evaluator. The husband had a major problem, though: the deadline for naming expert witnesses had passed more than five months prior.

The court refused to allow the husband to add any additional experts.

This was a proper use of the judge’s discretion, according to the Court of Special Appeals. For a party in the position that the father found himself, the law has multiple avenues to counteract the effect of unfavorable expert testimony. For one thing, as the appeals court noted, the father could have been proactive and named a second expert positioned to rebut an unfavorable evaluation, but he did not.

He also could have filed a motion asking the judge to make an amendment to the scheduling order and add a new deadline date specifically for the designation of expert rebuttal witnesses, but he didn’t do that, either. All of that amounted to a husband harmed not by court error but by his own procedural errors.

The Role a Good Expert Can Play in Your Divorce Case

R.Z. and D.Z.’s case was a custody matter, but the lesson it teaches can apply to a wide variety of family law cases. Your divorce matter may involve disputes regarding property division and asset valuation, which might, for example, necessitate the use of an appraiser or other property valuation expert. Your divorce case might involve alimony as an issue and, therefore, benefit from testimony by a vocational expert. There are many ways where experts might strengthen your divorce case but if you miss the disclosure deadline, the court may exclude your expert’s evidence entirely, meaning the expert’s opinions will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the case.

Whether yours is a divorce case focused on property issues, alimony issues, or other topics, count on the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with the experience-driven and detail-oriented representation your case deserves. To learn more, contact us at 888-519-2801 or via our online form.

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