Going through a divorce can be one of the most trying experiences of a person's life. Not only does divorce initiate a series of transitions that can have a profound emotional impact on your life, but divorce proceedings also involve a series of legal steps and processes with which most people are unfamiliar. This includes the process of discovery.
Discovery is a legal tool that allows each party to seek information about finances, assets, liabilities, and other matters related to the divorce. It is important to understand how discovery works for the process to go smoothly.
What Is the Purpose of Discovery?
During a divorce, the discovery process can feel stressful, even invasive, but it's important to remember that discovery serves important purposes.
First, discovery provides transparency, ensuring both parties are fully aware of all assets, debts, and related financial matters. This is crucial in the fair division of assets and determination of spousal support or child support payments.
Secondly, discovery can be a critical tool for gathering evidence and establishing facts in divorce proceedings. It allows each party to build their case and can significantly impact the outcome of the divorce.
Discovery can involve a variety of methods, including:
- Financial documents: bank statements and credit card statements, tax returns, investment accounts, retirement benefits
- Personal documents: birth certificates, marriage licenses/certificates, passports
- Property documents: deeds, appraisals of real estate and personal property
- Employment documents: pay stubs and employment contracts
Both parties must be completely honest and provide all relevant documents. Failure to do so can have consequences, including potential criminal charges for perjury or contempt of court.
How Does the Discovery Process Work?
In California, the discovery process in family law cases typically begins after the initial divorce petition has been filed. The first step in the process is the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. Each party is required to complete this declaration, wherein they must disclose all assets and liabilities, regardless of whether the asset or liability is separate property, community property, or quasi-community property. This step ensures all marital assets and debts are identified, laying the groundwork for property distribution.
The discovery process can involve various methods. These can include interrogatories, written questions one party sends to the other to be answered under oath. Request for Production of Documents is another standard method wherein one party asks the other to provide specific documents relating to the divorce case.
In some cases, depositions may be taken, where a party or witness gives testimony under oath before a court reporter. It's important to note that all this information is gathered under the concept of "continuing duty," which means if any information changes or new information arises, it must be shared promptly.
Under California law, spouses have a fiduciary duty to each other, which continues through the discovery process until community property distribution has been completed. This duty requires complete transparency and good-faith dealings between the parties. Non-compliance with the rules of discovery can lead to sanctions by the court, including fines and even jail time in severe cases.
Types of Discovery Methods in Divorce Cases
There are several types of discovery methods used in divorce cases, including:
- Interrogatories: As mentioned earlier, these are written questions that one party sends to the other. The answers are provided under oath, making them a valuable tool for gathering information.
- Document requests: These are written requests for specific documents related to the divorce case. This can include financial records, emails, text messages, and more.
- Depositions: A deposition allows an attorney to question a party or witness under oath before the trial. The answers given during a deposition can be used as evidence in court.
- Admissions of fact: These are statements that one party asks the other to admit or deny. It is a method used to establish undisputed facts in the case.
- Physical and mental evaluations: This is more common in cases where child custody is in question. A court may order a party to undergo a physical or psychological evaluation.
In divorce cases, discovery is often the most extensive and time-consuming part of the process. However, it is essential for ensuring a fair and equitable resolution. It allows both parties to go to trial with as much information as possible, reducing the chance of any unpleasant surprises. In many cases, the discovery process can also encourage settlement once both parties clearly understand all the facts.
What Happens If My Spouse Tries to Hide Assets During Discovery?
Unfortunately, some people may attempt to hide assets or provide incomplete or misleading information about their financial situation during a divorce. This kind of dishonest behavior can skew the distribution of assets and make it difficult to reach a fair and equitable settlement.
Another challenge arises when parties refuse to comply with discovery requests, either by not responding promptly or not providing the requested documents or information. This can prolong the discovery phase considerably, leading to increased tension and conflict.
Failing to comply with discovery requests can result in serious consequences, such as:
- Court-imposed sanctions
- Having certain rights or claims dismissed
- Monetary fines
How Burch Shepard Family Law Group Can Help with Your Divorce
Divorce is an emotionally charged process with its own set of legal complexities. Understanding how discovery works and being aware of the potential consequences of non-compliance can help ensure that your case goes smoothly. At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, our team of experienced divorce attorneys is committed to supporting and guiding you through the complexities of the discovery process during your divorce.
Our team also has extensive experience dealing with non-compliant spouses or those attempting to hide assets. We leave no stone unturned in uncovering the truth and ensuring a fair outcome. We can implement a variety of techniques to find hidden assets, including forensic analysis of financial records, subpoenas to third-party entities, and the use of expert witnesses. With Burch Shepard Family Law Group by your side, you can trust that your interests will be strongly represented.
Finally, we know that every divorce case is unique and brings its own set of challenges. We are dedicated to providing personalized service, tailored strategies, and compassionate guidance to our clients. We are here to answer your questions, address your concerns, and protect your rights throughout the divorce process. With Burch Shepard Family Law Group, you are not alone in this journey.
If you are considering divorce and would like to learn more about the discovery process, please do not hesitate to reach out online or by calling us at (949) 565-4158 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today.