After your divorce case begins, you'll participate in an important but often unfamiliar legal process: discovery. What is discovery? How does it work in divorce cases? And what are your rights and responsibility regarding discovery and your spouse? Here are answers to some key questions.
What Is Discovery?
Discovery is the exchange of information between two parties at law. It occurs long before any hearings or trials and usually occurs largely by mail. This process allows both sides access to information and documents relevant to their case, assists in building a case, and facilitates gauging the strength of the other side's case.
What Is Included in Discovery?
Discovery generally involves three parts: interrogatories, requests for production, and depositions. An interrogatory is a printed list of questions each party asks the other to answer. In divorce, there is usually a standard list of divorce-related questions provided by the state of residence. But you can expand the interrogatories by using special interrogatories specific to your circumstances.
Requests for production ask for things like tax documents, bank information, asset titles, deeds, proof of inheritances, and other things needed to settle divorce issues. Finally, depositions are sessions when a person is asked questions, under oath, by both attorneys.
How Does Discovery Work in Divorce?
A divorcing couple must hash out — or request that a judge determine — a fair split of assets, obligations, and custody of what they shared in their marriage. Discovery helps you achieve that goal by ensuring each person can negotiate fairly with the other.
If one spouse worked and built up a retirement account, the nonworking spouse may have a right to some of it. But you can't negotiate over this if you don't know that it exists and what it's worth. Similarly, access to individual income tax documents allows both sides to know the other's income for support purposes.
Do You Have to Respond to Discovery?
In general, you must respond to all of these types of discovery requests in some manner. Failure to respond will harm your case.
However, you can object to specific requests. This is not an excuse for your soon-to-be ex to fish for personal information or act vengefully. So you may object or decline to answer when the request is too burdensome, violates your privacy, is irrelevant to the divorce proceeding, is overly vague, or makes assumptions.
Where Can You Get Help?
Because discovery is a new process for most people and it's an important part of the divorce, it's smart to seek professional counsel before completing it. A skilled family law attorney can help you navigate your discovery needs, respond to your spouse's requests, and protect your rights. Contact a divorce attorney to discuss your divorce.