The method of obtaining information in divorce cases where there are issues of property division, alimony, or child support is known as discovery. There are a handful of types of discovery that are discussed below. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, 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. 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.
If you are in need of more information or want to consult with one of our attorneys, please contact the attorneys of Petrelli Previtera Schimmel, LLC at (215) 523-6900.