Discovery

Divorce proceedings are immensely personal by their very nature. This means that virtually all aspects of the spouses’ lives will need to be explored and accounted for in reaching a fair result. This process of gathering information is known as discovery and it begins as soon as the client contacts the attorney regarding the divorce.  Discovery involves the parties exchanging requested information. Formal discovery will be drafted by your attorney and sent to the opposing party with a 30 day time limit for producing the information requested.

Information Obtained By Attorney

A good attorney will start to collect pertinent information from the client right away. The information asked will seem to be exceptionally personal, yet it is essential to give exact accounts with respect to each subject. Lawyers will need to know the basic information about all the parties involved including the children, if there are any. This basic information may include names, addresses, birthdays, and social security numbers. In order to achieve a fair result regarding the allocation of property and assets, the party will also need to provide information about salary, debts, and assets. This information may include but is not limited to stocks, real estate, investments, and retirement packages.

A common method to receive this information is through a questionnaire. Nonetheless, documentation of the information provided will be necessary. Documentation of pay stubs, mortgage statements, and bills will be fundamental to building up the full picture of what must be represented in the court’s division. The attorney will also gather credit reports of both spouses. In the event that the spouses own a home, or any real property, an appraised value of the property will need to be obtained. This is especially true if the parties involved disagree on the value given to the home.

Information can also come from social media. Courts are still deciding exactly how to incorporate social media in the context of evidence law. However, even if it cannot be used in a trial, social media can allow one to see how a particular party thinks. Posts and pictures can help uncover some essential components. A skilled attorney will caution about clients’ social media activity.

Experienced counsel will waste no time in beginning to gather information from his or her client.  This means that income, debts, and assets (such as stocks, real estate, investments, retirement packages, etcetera) will also need to be disclosed in full. This information is vital to achieving a fair distribution and favorable result.

Documentation of all the information requested in the questionaire will also be necessary. Gathering pay stubs, mortgage statements, and bills will be essential to developing the full picture of what must be accounted for in the court’s division. 

Formal Discovery

Once a divorce has been filed, attorneys are allowed different discovery methods to compel the other spouse to give information/documentation that can be helpful in litigation. These methods are available to both parties equally. As said earlier, discovery begins as soon as contact with the attorney has been made before the actual filing of the petition. However, the court will set a specific date by which all formal discoveries must be finished. The court gives each side plenty of time to complete their discovery and the date is typically set near the trial.

Attorneys are empowered with discovery tools once a divorce proceeding has been filed in court. These tools are used to force the other spouse and third-parties to provide information and documents that can be used in litigation. 

Written Discovery

The two most common and useful methods of discovery include requests for production and interrogatories. Request for production means that the other party must provide some particular document, whether it be paystubs, property records, bank statements, etc. These requests are sent to the other party and can be very broad in scope. This means that as long as the documents requested are in some way attributed to the concerns of the divorce or may lead to admissible information, the opposing party must provide the documents. Because this is so broad, documents such as credit card statements and text messages are fair game as well. However, a spouse can object to the request. Typically, parties object on the basis of it being too broad or irrelevant. If the parties cannot agree, the court will decide whether certain documents have to be turned over to the opposing party. It is important to note that a court may punish a party if they do not turn over information through the discovery process.

Interrogatories are written inquiries that the spouse must answer. The appropriate responses are presented in writing and must be true. These inquiries can cover a similarly extensive variety of subjects just as requests for production. This implies that the questions can be personal. More limits are placed on this method of discovery by limiting the number of interrogatories each side is allowed. If a party needs more interrogatories they will have to get permission from the court before they are authorized to send more to the opposing party. 

The answers to interrogatories are submitted in writing and must be sworn as true. These questions can cover an equally wide range of subjects as requests for production. This means that they can get quite personal and pointed, especially when the grounds for divorce are fault-based. Interrogatories are also subject to the same procedure concerning compelling production.

Though many discovery tools exist, two are by far the most used and powerful: requests for production and interrogatories. Request for production seek documents that the other party has. These will include paystubs, bank statements, and property records. The requests will be sent to the opposing party, requesting documents connected or associated with a certain aspect of the case. The whole world is not fair game, but the scope of these requests is very broad. So long as the request deals with something connected to the issues of the divorce or may lead to the discovery or admissible evidence, the party will need to respond. This means everything from credit card statements to personal text messages may need to be turned over. 

Depositions

Along with its written counterparts, depositions make up the last of the big three formal discovery tools. A deposition is best thought of as trial testimony outside the courtroom. The witness will be sworn in, just as witnesses are in open court. The opposing attorney will then ask the witness questions that must be answered. During the entire process, a court reporter will be taking down the answers and creating a record of the deposition. The range of subjects a deposition may cover is very broad, just as with written discovery. Experienced attorneys will use depositions to attempt to rattle witnesses on points they believe are inaccurate or untrue. Again, the personal nature of divorce proceedings can lead to very intense, invasive questioning by attorneys. The testimony provided at depositions can be used both to gather information and as evidence at trial.  Depositions are essential when considering discovery methods.