In some divorces, one party has more knowledge and information about the parties’ assets and debts. In other cases, both parties may know about their own finances and assets but may not be sure what the other party has. Even when the responsibility for managing bills, budgeting, investing and purchasing assets is shared between divorcing spouses, it is not unusual that both parties are on unequal footing when it comes to narrowing down marital assets and debts.
What is the purpose of discovery?
When a divorce is in process and there are marital assets or debts to be divided, it is crucial that both parties understand the breadth and depth of their marital estate. In Pennsylvania, property is divided via “equitable distribution,” and property cannot be equitably distributed if it is not abundantly clear that that property is marital.
There is a process by which information can (or must) be shared to allow both parties the opportunity to comprehend what assets and debts are subject to equitable distribution. That process is called “discovery.”
I usually describe discovery as the process of information sharing. One or both parties will be asked to provide information about topics relevant to the divorce and equitable distribution, including income, assets, and debts.
What ways are there to gather discovery?
In divorce matters, the two main processes to obtain discovery are 1) Requests for Production of Documents and 2) Interrogatories.
A Request for Production of Documents (often shortened to RFPD) is a request for documents. Generally, documents will be requested at certain dates (date of marriage, date of opening an account, date of separation, and current, for example) and the requests will initially be fairly broad (a request might be for every bank account you own or have access to, not a more narrowly tailored specific account). RFPDs are to be responded to fully and under oath by the responding spouse.
Interrogatories are written questions that one spouse asks the other spouse to answer, also in writing. Questions might include things like “What is your educational background?” or “What is the date of separation?” Interrogatories are often used when just the production of a document would not suffice to fully and completely understand an aspect of the divorce. Interrogatories are to be answered under oath, as though the responding spouse was on the stand in court.
A less often used form of discovery in divorces is depositions, which is a verbal examination of one spouse. Depositions are given with the responding party under oath, and are generally recorded, either by audio/visual means or by a stenographer.
What do I do if I receive discovery requests?
If you have an attorney and received discovery requests from your spouse or their counsel, your attorney should help guide you in responding. If you do not have an attorney, it may be to your benefit to seek counsel, even if just limited to the discovery matter. Discovery requests can be very broad, and may include requests for information that does not necessarily need to be shared. A very common discovery question is related to the responding parties’ physical health, which might not be relevant in a divorce matter. A family law attorney can help you respond in a way that is compliant with the requests but still maintains some privacy of important personal issues.
If you receive discovery requests, it is important to respond. The PA Rules of Civil Procedure give a time-frame of 30 days to respond to discovery requests. If you fail to do so within that time frame, the requesting party can ask the Court to step in and compel you to answer.
What do I do if I want my spouse to provide discovery?
If you have an attorney, your attorney should prepare RFPD or Interrogatories to send to your spouse.
If you do not have an attorney, you can ask your spouse to provide documents on an informal basis. The downside of “informal” discovery is that your spouse is not necessarily under a legal obligation to respond. You should, however, always seek legal advise if you wish to pursue discovery through the Court.
If you are curious about discovery in a divorce matter, whether you are requesting or responding, you should speak with an attorney. The attorneys at the THOMAS SMITH Firm, P.C. can assist you in discovery, equitable distribution, divorce and other family law matters. More information about legal services for alimony, custody, child support, divorce and other family law matters can be found at thomassmithfirm.com or you can call us at (215) 860-3747 to schedule a consultation.
We look forward to hearing from you and helping you.