DISCOVERY IN THE DIVORCE CASE
The beginning stage of the divorce proceeding is usually a “discovery” period, during which both sides collect information necessary for settlement discussions and/or trial. Discovery is accomplished through interrogatories, depositions, and requests for documents.
Discovery refers to both parties’ right and responsibility to gather and disclose information — primarily financial — to the other side. The actual discovery procedures may be as informal as a telephone call from your lawyer requesting any checking account records you have, or as formal as a long list of questions you will be required to answer under oath.
A recorded conversation is not admissible as evidence in court unless the party recorded is aware of and consents to the recording. If you make such a recording, no matter how damaging to your spouse, you cannot use it in court. You may, in fact, give your spouse leverage against you in your case.
In most family law cases, both spouses will be asked to produce documents and records and respond to questions. It is essential that both sides have all the information and documentation necessary to prepare for trial and to form the basis for meaningful settlement discussions. By approaching these matters in the spirit of cooperation, you will reduce the time required for discovery and the cost of your case. Your lawyer will try to gather as much information as possible informally. However, when this is inadequate, the lawyer must resort to the procedures provided by law.
Depositions. One of the most common discovery proceedings is a deposition. A deposition, which generally takes place in a lawyer’s office, is the sworn testimony of you, your spouse and/or other witnesses. Generally, you, your spouse, both lawyers, and a court reporter are present. If you are deposed, you will receive advance written notice of the date for the deposition and any documents that your spouse’s attorney requests you to bring. Your lawyer will help you prepare. Review the notice carefully and provide copies of each document to your lawyer so you both can review them together before the deposition.
Document Requests. This is a written request for a specific list of documents to be produced by a specific date.
Interrogatories. You or your opponent may submit a list of detailed written questions. These must be answered (under oath) within the allotted time. If you fail to respond within the time required, you may be subject to punishment by the court.
Requests For Admissions. You or your opponent may be required to admit or deny specific written statements. These require immediate attention because, by law, a response must be received within a specified time. If you do not respond in the required time to a statement made by your spouse, it is deemed admitted and the court accepts it as fact.
Requests For Entry On Land. It may be necessary for your lawyer to formally request access to property to appraise a house or business or value their contents. The request will specify when and why access is necessary.
Requests For Physical Or Mental Examinations. Such requests are not as common in family law cases as they are in personal injury cases. However, such a request is appropriate if a party has put either mental or physical condition in issue. Generally, a party may not request a mental examination just because he or she thinks the other party is “crazy.”
It is important to remember that formal discovery may become an expensive proposition. We should always try to obtain information in the most cost-effective ways first.
If you have questions about divorce, contact the skilled Pittsburgh divorce lawyers at Bunde & Roberts, P.C.