What is the Purpose of Discovery in Divorce?
When couples think about divorce, they usually focus on the emotional and financial repercussions of the decision and leave the procedural and legal requirements to a divorce attorney. Spouses generally have an idea about the need to produce and submit certain documents to the Court so the case can proceed. However, they may not realize that the other side is also entitled to request, and if necessary forcibly demand, the production of information as a routine part of divorce. This process is referred to as discovery, and typically takes the most time, resources and expenses to complete. In fact, this step is a necessary prelude to negotiation; therefore, any meaningful advancement of a divorce petition hinges on successfully completing this part of the process.
In an unusual move, a California U.S. Representative is seeking to depose a representative in Ohio in connection with his divorce case, which includes allegations of adulterous behavior. Given how integral discovery is to the progression and completion of a divorce case, understanding how this process works and the underlying purpose is an important part of moving through this transition as seamlessly as possible.
The Purpose of Discovery
The general purpose of the discovery process is to exchange necessary information between parties involved in a legal action so each side has sufficient information to bolster his or her arguments and/or make informed decisions during negotiations. In the context of divorce, financial information is most commonly requested, and is particularly important if one spouse was primarily in charge of the couple’s finances.
Each party can expect to be asked by the Court to turn over the following types of information/documents:
- Bank statements;
- Investment records;
- Evidence of real estate ownership; and
- Documentation of debts and liabilities.
While Illinois is a no-fault divorce state, meaning the spouse asking for the dissolution of the marriage does not need to prove blame, he or she may still seek access to personal information, such as social media accounts and email, for other purposes. For example, evidence of lavish spending or illegal behavior can influence the division of property and division of parental responsibilities. Further, in addition to requesting information from the other spouse, third-parties, like employers and banks, may be contacted to provide information relevant to income and debt.
How the Process Works
Discovery is most commonly accomplished via one of the following methods: a request for production of documents, depositions, interrogatories or subpoenas. As the name implies, the production of documents is a formal request of the other party to turn over documents, objects or tangible things that match provided descriptions. This technique for obtaining information is most useful when one party has access to the documents the other does not. There is no limit on the number of production requests a party can submit, but documents are typically processed and presented in batches.
Depositions involve the live questioning of witnesses and other interested parties with information that would be cumbersome to learn through the production of documents. Interrogatories, by contrast, are written questions that require written responses by the other party. The number of questions is typically limited to less than 30 and the answers provided are treated as testimony given under oath. Hence, providing false information can lead to serious consequences, including sanctions.
Finally, subpoenas are used to obtain information for third parties that are not parties to the case, and are thus not necessarily subject to direct requests for documents and other tangible objects. Note that for items produced via subpoena, the costs associated with retrieving, copying, printing and mailing the information is often put on the requesting party. Therefore, focusing on individuals and entities holding the most relevant and expansive amount of information is important.
Speak with an Illinois Divorce Attorney
Divorce is a complicated decision that triggers many mechanisms when formally initiated. Experienced Hoffman Estates family law attorney Nicholas Richardson knows how to walk you through this process, so you do not absorb unnecessary stress. If you have questions or concerns about divorce or the process itself, do not hesitate to call the law office for a free initial consultation.