With the exception of child custody, the issues arising from divorce largely relate to financial matters, including determining child support, postseparation support, alimony, and division of marital property and debts. When some or all of these issues need to be resolved, your attorney will require substantial personal and financial information in order to prepare your case for settlement negotiations, mediation, or trial. Although you may be able to provide some information orally, it is crucial that your attorney have adequate documentation to verify pertinent details of such things as the incomes, expenses, assets,and debts of both you and your spouse. In litigation, the most persuasive evidence is that which is supported by credible documentation or other physical evidence.
When a legal action is pending, attorneys can use a legal process known as “discovery” to formally obtain information and documents from the opposing party. The most common types of discovery used in family related matters are interrogatories (written requests for information), requests for production of documents (requests for a party to produce documents), and request for admissions (requests that a party admit or deny the truth of certain allegations or authenticity of document(s)). The amount and type of discovery that is served in your case will depend on the issues in dispute, and the complexity of those issues, such as whether there are business interests or large real estate holdings that must be valued or disputes regarding separate property.
Usually your attorney will serve discovery on the opposing party and the opposing party’s attorney will serve discovery on you. It is common practice for requests for production of documents to require a party to produce documents that date back one to three years prior to the parties’ separation. Discovery requests in a family law case will typically require the production of such things as, tax returns, wage statements, deeds, mortgages, bank and investment account statements, credit card and loan statements, IRA and retirement plan information, life insurance policies, documents evidencing monthly expenses, appraisals and valuations reports. These records help to ensure that a full financial disclosure has been made and provide a broader view of the parties’ economic condition and personal situation. The details gleaned from these records is important for a number of reasons, whether it is to ensure that all assets and debts have been accounted for, or to help establish the parties’ marital standard of living for purposes of an alimony claim.
When there is no litigation pending, your attorney must rely on you and the opposing attorney (or the opposing party if not represented by an attorney) to voluntarily provide pertinent information and documents.
The documents and information that are produced voluntarily or exchanged through the discovery process provide your attorney with the necessary tools to effectively assess your case and provide you with the best legal advice and representation. You can save valuable time and money by cooperating with your attorney and promptly providing information and documents that are available to you or that you have the means to obtain.