While divorce trials are matters where the focus falls heavily on the facts in evidence, Maryland still has numerous procedural rules that govern. A spouse’s failure to comply with them can have a very harmful impact on that spouse’s ability to litigate her case before the court. Procedural issues are one area where a skillful Maryland divorce lawyer can be greatly helpful, ensuring that you are fully compliant with all the procedural rules as well as the procedural orders the court issues.
A divorce case from Prince George’s County shows exactly how damaging procedural errors can be.
The spouses in the case married in 2013 and separated in 2019. The wife worked for the federal government, but she also had her own business that, in 2016, transitioned to focus primarily on nutritional supplements. That transition was a success and the wife’s business experienced substantial growth during the spouses’ marriage.
The wife, according to the court, failed to respond to all of the husband’s document requests. Additionally, she failed to timely name an expert witness who would testify about the value of her business. The court had established a deadline of June 14, 2021, for the disclosure of expert witnesses. The husband designated an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) from Baltimore as his business valuation expert on June 14. The wife made no expert disclosure on or before the June 14 deadline.
That failure led the trial court to sanction the wife. Those sanctions included banning the wife from providing direct testimony — and expert testimony — about the business’s value.
As a result, the husband’s business valuation expert was the only expert who testified, and the trial judge eventually adopted the dollar figures that the husband’s expert submitted to the court, which placed the value of the wife’s business at more than $34.5 million.
The wife appealed the divorce judgment, contesting the judge’s disallowance of her direct testimony rebutting the testimony provided by the husband’s expert. At the trial, the wife sought unsuccessfully to testify that the husband’s expert’s figures were faulty (and overstated the value of the business) because they were based on sales projections that “never materialized.”
Normally, a business owner would be entitled to give testimony about her business’s value, even if she was not an expert in accounting or appraisal. The Maryland rules allow lay witnesses to opine if their testimony comes from first-hand knowledge. That rule does not, however, give that party an absolute right to provide that testimony, and the ability to provide that testimony can be lost, including as a result of a discovery sanction.
That’s exactly what happened in this case. The appeals court upheld the trial judge’s decision, explaining that the lower court did not exclude the wife’s testimony due to concerns about her “qualifications to speak to the value of her business.” Rather, the judge had barred such testimony from the wife as a punishment for her multiple discovery violations, and “permitting her testimony would undermine” those sanctions.
Whether your divorce involves assets worth tens of millions of dollars or a more modest amount of wealth, you need skillful counsel to ensure you get a fair outcome. The knowledgeable Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help you navigate the divorce litigation process and work towards a positive result. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.