What is Divorce Discovery?
One of the most important phases of the divorce process is “discovery.” This is the stage of a divorce where information is exchanged between the parties in order for them to make informed decisions — and successfully present their cases in court. The discovery process requires full disclosure of all assets, debts, and any other information that may be relevant to the issues in a divorce case. Significantly, there are certain tools and procedures involved to obtain the necessary documents.
What is Divorce Discovery in Missouri?
Discovery is used in divorce litigation to obtain information from the other party. But it’s vital to understand that the information sought must be germane to the case. Discovery is not meant to be a “fishing expedition” — and it cannot be unduly burdensome. Under Missouri law, discovery must be “proportional to the needs of the case considering the totality of the circumstances.”
Discovery can be either formal or informal. When parties are willing to work together, informal procedures can be used to share information. However, if a case is contentious, it may be necessary to use formal discovery tools to obtain the information sought. While discovery is often the longest phase of litigation, the length of time discovery can take depends upon the complexity of the case and whether the parties cooperate.
What Types of Discovery are Sought in Divorce?
In most divorces, property distribution is a major issue that must be determined. During the divorce process in Missouri, property must be divided equitably between the spouses — and full financial disclosure is mandatory. This means both spouses must provide one another with financial information to obtain a fair outcome when it comes to dividing things like assets, property, and debts.
Examples of information that is exchanged in divorce discovery can include the following:
- Financial affidavits
- W-2 statements
- Tax returns and pay stubs
- Insurance documents
- Banking and credit card statements
- Mortgage documents
- Loan paperwork
- Real estate documents
- Investments, stocks, and bonds
- Healthcare costs
Additionally, during the discovery phase of divorce, it may be necessary to secure appraisals for certain assets, including any businesses owned by either spouse.
What Tools Can Be Used in Discovery?
While it’s always best for spouses to freely exchange documents and information, there are a number of tools that can be used during the discovery process in divorce. These can help to move the process along and specify what information is being asked for. Discovery tools that can help parties obtain information include the following:
- Interrogatories — Interrogatories are a set of written questions that are answered under oath by the other party. They cover financial information and any other issues that might be relevant to a divorce case.
- Depositions — Depositions are in-person statements that are made by either spouse or third parties who may be able to provide information. They take place out of court in the office of a lawyer or court reporter and can provide insight regarding how a witness will testify at trial. Statements made during depositions can be used to impeach a witness if they testify differently at trial than they did during their deposition.
- Requests for Production of Documents — A party may make a formal request to provide specific documents pertaining to the divorce by using Requests for Production of Documents. This can allow parties to obtain financial information, emails, photos, written communications, and other crucial documents.
- Requests for Admissions — Requests for Admission are used to identify issues in a divorce by asking short questions that a party must confirm or deny.
- Subpoenas — Subpoenas are used in cases where a spouse suspects the other may have hidden assets or they refuse to comply with discovery demands. Rather than asking the spouse for the needed information, a subpoena requests it directly from a third party, such as a bank or financial institution.
Failure to comply with a discovery request can result in severe penalties. In the event a party does not provide the requested documents, the attorneys for each side will confer. The next step is to file a motion to compel — this is a court order that mandates the other party to produce the discovery. If a party still refuses to comply, they may be held in contempt. Critically, a party may also be penalized for not answering questions in discovery truthfully, responding in an untimely manner, or concealing information. A court may issue fines, find in favor of the other party, or even impose jail time in severe cases.
Contact an Experienced Missouri Divorce Attorney
The discovery process in divorce can be time consuming and complicated. It’s essential to have a skillful attorney by your side who can ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides knowledgeable representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area for divorce and family law matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can assist you, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.