Before beginning, we should highlight that discovery can happen in civil and criminal cases. We will look at this through a family law case lens. Though there is some basic conceptual overlap, discovery will look much different during a divorce than at a criminal trial. That said, discovery is a pivotal component of a contested divorce process, especially where litigation is inevitable.
When lawyers talk about discovery in a family law case, they refer to a legal process centered around obtaining information and exchanging evidence. For example, imagine that your spouse took care of all the finances before your divorce. While you and your attorney work through a divorce agreement with your spouse’s attorney, you develop concerns that your former spouse is hiding assets.
Discovery is a means of resolving that. It allows both parties to request information from the other side. You and your attorney can use discovery to learn more about several things when it comes to financial disclosures:
- Assets & Income – Income, wages, investments, rental properties, etc.
- Debts – Credit cards, loans, mortgages
- Bank and Other Financial Statements – These will date back several months or years, including savings, checking, retirement, and investment accounts.
- Tax Returns – Both sides can submit state and federal returns, including schedules and attachments.
- Real Estate Deeds – Your attorney should know how much real estate is owned, where it is located, and how much is owed.
Your attorney will explain how these can be obtained. Typically, your attorney submits requests for information, depositions, and subpoenas. The discovery ensures that both sides completely understand all the details that will factor into the divorce process. Another way of looking at it is that you can’t divide your assets (and debts) without truly understanding what they are. Otherwise, it is impossible to generate an equitable divorce settlement.
What is Not Allowed During Discovery
As important as understanding what you can produce during the discovery process is equally valuable to know what you can’t. There are limitations on the discovery process to protect the privacy and rights of you and your spouse. Though it may seem obvious, we need to highlight that there may be court orders requiring either you or your spouse to turn over specific documents. When a court order has been issued, you must comply with it.
Because we are a law firm, we will point out that you will not be forced into disclosing privileged information, including conversations you have had with your attorney. This also extends to other forms of protected or confidential information. Additionally, clients and attorneys may try to use discovery to harass, intimidate, or force the other party to turn over irrelevant documents. Think of the ex trying to pry into their former spouse’s personal life by requesting medical records to access personal correspondence.
Your attorney will play a crucial role in helping you realize when a request extends beyond the scope of discovery. Due to your attorney’s involvement in your case, they will tell you when a request is irrelevant, excessive, or rooted in harassment.
Get in Touch with a Family Law Attorney
Discovery is one component of the divorce process, but it highlights how imperative it is to have legal counsel support you. Our role is to be reliable and compassionate because you need someone to turn to when facing challenges such as discovery during a contested divorce. To learn more about how we can support you, contact our offices today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.