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Discover the Possibilities: The Basics of the Discovery Process

Once a family law action is filed with the court, some clients are surprised to learn that they have the ability to obtain information from the other party, and even third parties, which is otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain. Other clients are surprised when they receive a hefty document containing hundreds of questions that have to be answered within a limited time period. Whether you are the purveyor or receiver of discovery documents, it is helpful for people to understand some basics about the discovery process.

In general, the discovery process is the process by which parties “discover” information relevant to their case. There are several options parties may use. Below is a list of four commonly used discovery methods and a brief definition of each:

  1. Interrogatories: Interrogatories are questions directed to the other party. In family law cases, they often include questions regarding property, parenting, income, expenses, and anything else relevant to the case. The receiving party is required to respond to the questions within a limited period of time (usually thirty days).
  2. Requests for Production: As may be obvious from the name, these are requests for the production of documents or other items currently held in the possession (or accessible to) the other party. This may include bank statements, other financial documents, appraisal documents, diaries, journals, student grades, resumes and more. The requests for production often come in a document along with the interrogatories and have the same time limits.
  3. Subpoenas: Subpoenas are documents that order a person to appear, permit inspection, or produce documents. These can be served on both parties to the suit, and third parties. For example, if the opposing party holds an interest at a company, a party may request that the records custodian of that company provide the records s/he keeps. Or, a subpoena may order that a person appear for a deposition.
  4. Oral Depositions: Oral depositions are an opportunity for a party to case to ask questions of another party, or a non-party. These depositions may be used to find out what relevant information a person has or doesn’t have. It may also be used to determine how a witness might testify if the case goes to trial.

In each case, the benefit of different methods of discovery must be balanced with the cost and time expended on obtaining it. We are experienced in determining a discovery strategy that properly balances these often conflicting interests.

Please note, this is a very brief overview of some of the available discovery options. If you would like to use the discovery process to obtain information to prepare your case, or if you have been served a request or order to provide discovery, it is likely in your best interest to obtain legal counsel that can address the specific discovery issues in your case.