Discovery is the legal process by which parties to a law suit uncover the evidence and true legal position of the other side. It is common for this process to be used in divorces to uncover assets and determine what the other side actually wants. Every State has particular laws regarding discovery and divorce. In Texas there are four main types of written discovery: Requests for Production, Requests for Admissions, Written Interrogatories and Requests for Disclosure.
There are other forms of discovery available to the parties such as informal investigations and depositions but nothing eats up client’s time and attorney’s fees quite like written discovery. The following is a brief description of how production is used in a divorce and how to respond.
Requests for Production are written requests specifying certain documents or other tangible things that are to be produced for inspection and copying. The idea is that the other side wants to see what tangible evidence you might be using in court before you get there so they can prepare. They are also attempting to gather evidence as to the make up of the marital estate. In other words they want to find out what the parties own so it can be divided. It is important to point out that if you do not produce the document you cannot use it at a trial or hearing later.
The most important thing to remember is that you must produce the documents and things that are requested unless your lawyer tells you not to. There are objections that can be made that can protect certain items but it is best to approach production with the mindset that you are going to fully comply. If you fail to produce a document or item you can be held in contempt of court.
Having said that generally your attorney is looking to object to as many requests as possible in an attempt to limit the amount of work both of you have to do as well as restrict the flow of information to the other side as much as is legally possible.
The very first thing to keep in mind is that if you do not have the item they are requesting you do not have to produce it. This is common in divorces where one party leaves the home and documents such as tax return left behind. If you did not take it with you they can’t make you go through all of the trouble of getting a new copy.
You do not have to create anything for the other side. If their request would require that you make something from scratch you are not required to do it. They can only ask that you produce things that you have in your possession or that you have superior access to.
That leads us to the next point. If your spouse has equal access to the item you do not have to produce it. This commonly occurs with things like joint credit card bills. If they have the ability to go online to get them as easily as you do then there is no reason for you to do it for them.
In the end hiding assets or documents is rarely worth the trouble. Putting all your cards on the table will generally work out for the best. If you are involved in a divorce and do not have a lawyer the discovery process, specifically requests for production may force you to retain an attorney to avoid being trapped.