Judging a book by it’s cover. What makes someone an ‘expert’ and why is it important?

Judging a book by it’s cover. What makes someone an ‘expert’ and why is it important?

One of the first steps in a property settlement is to identify and value the assets of the marriage or relationship. The valuation of a particular asset may be required if an agreed value cannot be reached, or if the asset is complex or unusual in nature.

For example, in the recent case of Isaacson [2019] FCCA 522, during the parties’ marriage the Husband had spend a considerable amount of time acquiring books. One of the points in dispute in this case related to the value of the husband’s book collection, with the Wife contending that the Husband’s book collection was worth $384,421 and the Husband contending it was worth $183,905.

The Husband called Mr C to give evidence about the value of the book collection. Mr C said that he was able to express an expert opinion as: “I am the owner/proprietor of Company where I sell books and collectables. I specialise in old books. I opened my first book store in Suburb D in 1995 and have been selling and grading books for nearly 23 years. I current hold a second-hand dealer’s licence”.

Section 79(1) of the Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) qualifies what is needed to be set out for a persons opinion to be considered that of an ‘expert’. A person is accepted as having specialised knowledge (beyond that ordinarily known) and being an expert by reason of that person’s training, study or experience.

The Court did not accept that Mr C was an expert. In particular, the Judge commented that Mr C did not depose ‘to any study of books especially second-hand books that would take him into the realm of a specialist’.

Where valuation evidence is defective, the Court may be left with little option other than to order the sale of the assets to determine their true value. In this particular case as no alternative expert evidence was available an Order was made for the Husband’s book collection to be sold and the sale proceeds to be divided equally between the Husband and the Wife.

If you would like to speak to one of our experienced family law solicitors about your ‘expert’ options, please contact our office on 4929 2225.