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Discovery in Divorce Cases

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The Pennsylvania Divorce Process has several steps, and one of them is the discovery phase. This part is really important because it lets both parties gather all the info they need for the case. Usually, it happens after filing and serving divorce complaints, but before mediation or trial. The discovery process makes sure that both parties have all the facts, which helps with a fair settlement or court decision.

The process of gathering information in divorce cases involving property division, alimony, or child support is commonly referred to as discovery.

In this video: Firm partner and attorney Melinda Previtera talks about what to expect in family court and how to prepare to testify in your case.
Melinda Previtera, Esquire
Divorce Lawyer

The Goal of Discovery in Divorce Proceedings

The primary goal of discovery in divorce proceedings is to ensure transparency and fairness. It is designed to prevent ‘surprises’ in court and to level the playing field so that both parties have equal access to relevant information. This process uncovers crucial details about income, assets, debts, and other financial factors, which are essential for determining alimony, child support, and property division. In cases involving child custody, discovery may also shed light on each party’s parenting skills and their ability to provide for their child’s welfare. Ultimately, the discovery process aims to facilitate a fair and equitable resolution, either through mediation or court trial.

Types of Discovery

There are a handful of types of discovery that are discussed below. In Pennsylvania, you can start the discovery process without court approval, and your divorce attorney should help guide you through it.


The first type of discovery is called interrogatories. Coming from the same root as the word “interrogation,” interrogatories are a list of written questions directed to your spouse. They can ask about anything that might lead to admissible evidence and therefore can cover a lot of topics. Most commonly, they relate to your assets and liabilities, educational and work background, and lifestyle. Interrogatories are very common in cases where there are even simple economic issues to be resolved, though sometimes if the spouses are on okay terms, their attorneys might engage in informal discovery, usually in the form of letters listing requested information. Interrogatories also usually are sent with a Request for Production of Documents, asking for bank statements, tax returns, and other documentation of finances.


Another tool to request documentation, used less often than interrogatories but in cases where your spouse has not or cannot provide the documents you seek, is a subpoena. A subpoena is a legal document that your attorney or the court issues to an independent source, such as a bank or employer, to request records. Subpoenas can also be used to require the attendance of individuals at court. They must be served well in advance of the hearing or trial, so you should discuss with your attorney ahead of time which individuals you might want to subpoena.


A third and frequently used discovery technique is the deposition. Depositions are sworn testimony taken under oath in an informal setting, such as the office of your divorce attorney. A court reporter is present to record the testimony and prepare a transcript. Depositions can be used at trial if your spouse gives different testimony at trial, or if the person deposed is not available to testify at trial. They can be great tools to prepare for trial, and often lead to settlements. Their drawback is their expense – they are very expensive and can add up quickly.

The key to discovery is to conduct the types that are cost-effective and necessary to your case. If you are pretty sure you know your spouse’s financial situation, there is usually no need to do depositions or even issue subpoenas. Informal discovery may suffice for basic information and financial disclosures. If some information is difficult to get, you should reserve the more expensive, formal discovery types for that and rely on interrogatories for basic information. Communication with your divorce attorney is key to forming a strategy that will leave you satisfied with the disclosures received during your divorce proceedings.

Consequences of Non-Compliance with Discovery in Divorce Cases

Non-compliance with the discovery process in divorce proceedings can have legal and procedural repercussions. If a party fails to comply with discovery requests, the court may impose sanctions, which can range from fines to dismissal of claims or defenses. The court may also draw adverse inferences against the non-compliant party, negatively impacting the final judgment. It can also open parties up to Challenges to the Divorce Agreement, even years later if it is found that marital assets were not disclosed during the divorce proceedings. In addition to these legal consequences, non-compliance with discovery can cause significant delays in the divorce process. It could lead to mistrust between parties and escalate conflicts, making it harder to reach a settlement.

Real-Life Examples of Discovery in Divorce Cases

An interesting case that highlights the significance of the discovery process in divorce cases is the shoe collection divorce battle. In 2012, a man sued his ex-wife over her extensive collection of shoes. According to various news outlets, including ABC News, the couple had finalized their divorce three years prior with a settlement. However, the husband claimed he was entitled to 35% of the value of his ex-wife’s shoe collection based on their agreement. Her collection was comprised of over 1,200 designer shoes, estimated to be worth $1 million.

The husband asserted that he was not aware of the extent of her shoe collection and accused her of not disclosing it during their divorce. This case, unusual as it may seem, underscores the importance of the discovery process, where each party involved in a divorce is required to uncover the financial information of the other. The process is usually handled by the parties’ lawyers, who prepare a thorough set of questions and document requests to ensure full disclosure of all assets. Since fairly dividing a couple’s assets is crucial in divorce, both parties need to comply with these requests. Not doing so could result in sanctions imposed by the court or open exes up for legal action in years to come.

Support From Our Legal Team

While the case that made the news involved a dispute over shoes, it is not uncommon for disputes to arise over checking accounts, retirement funds, and childcare expenses. Issues arise when a bank account is switched to a joint account upon marriage, and also if one spouse empties out an account after the parties separate. It is also not uncommon for a spouse to hide certain assets, such as income that he did not report on his latest income tax return.
Whether the dispute is over shoes or more traditional assets, having an attorney to handle your divorce is key to making sure you get your fair share of marital property. The divorce attorneys at Petrelli Previtera, LLC are well versed in gleaning all the necessary information for equitable distribution. Please contact us if you are contemplating a divorce or have already started the process.

If you are in need of more information or want to consult with one of our attorneys, please contact the attorneys of Petrelli Previtera, LLC at 866-465-5395.


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