In a Virginia divorce, one of the key steps is the discovery process. It’s a crucial mechanism where both parties unearth relevant information to fortify their cases, and it’s a process we routinely help our clients navigate.
Discovery is a two-way process, which means that while we can request information from the other party (your spouse), your spouse may also request information from you. These discovery requests can look overwhelming. However, it is very important and required by law, that you respond to these requests as thoroughly as possible. When we work with you we will be asking for similar information from the other party, so it is only fair that we hold up our end of the bargain.
Let’s dive into the essentials of answering a discovery request, ensuring you’re well-prepared for this significant stage.
What Is Discovery in the Divorce Process?
Discovery is what it sounds like—each party tries to discover any information relevant to their case. It is an avenue where each party seeks to reveal pertinent information that could sway the outcome of the divorce. In a Virginia divorce, this process is formalized and comprehensive, covering various aspects of your life.
Types of Discovery and How to Answer Them
The other party can request three different types of discovery. Do not be alarmed if you receive only some of these or all of them – they are simply tools attorneys use.
These requests are open-ended questions, often asking you to list information. It is important to honestly and thoroughly answer the questions asked. However, it is not the time to “plead your case” to the other side. If your answers are more than 100 words, that’s and indication you need to speak further with your attorney about your strategy.
The interrogatories may also ask for information that does not apply to you or that you simply do not know. That is okay; just let your attorney know what you don’t have answers for and why.
Additionally, interrogatories will often ask for an income and expense sheet. Our office has one that is easy to fill out and will forward that to you along with instructions specific to the sheet.
If you are asked what witnesses/experts you will produce at trial, that is something that your attorney should work with you on, and you do not need to respond with this information..
- Requests for the Production of Documents
These requests are just what they sound like—the other party is asking for documents. These can range from financial records to communication histories.
These can often feel like the most tedious and overwhelming requests because you must gather documents that you likely do not keep handy. You should do your absolute best to find the documents requested. If you genuinely cannot locate a document or never had the document in your possession, let us know- that is fine and it happens a lot.
Frequently, some of the requests may not be relevant to your situation. The aim is to cast a wide net for financial information, regardless of whether you’re expected to possess the specified documents. Don’t hesitate to respond promptly, even if you lack certain documents like “articles of incorporation” or “statements of financial worth.” It’s common, and you must inform us if you don’t have them – that’s perfectly acceptable.
While the Court expects you to divulge all documents you have, we can let the Court know that you either never had the requested documents or have tried but have been unable to retrieve the requested documents. But you have to let us know.
Some companies and organizations may request a fee to collect and deliver your records to you. If the fee is reasonable and you are able, please pay the fee. However, please let us know if the fee is unreasonable or more than you can pay. We can brainstorm other ways to get the documents or communicate with the other attorney to let them know why you have been unable to get the documents.
Lastly, the other party will often make requests that ask you to deliver all exhibits that you plan to use at trial. Do not worry about those requests. They are strategy questions that we will confer with the opposing counsel to answer, and state courts often recognize an objection to producing all exhibits at this stage as appropriate.
- Requests for Admissions
These are statements your spouse asks you to admit or deny, shaping the narrative of the case. These kinds of requests are relatively rare in divorces and have distinct implications in a legal case. For that reason, if you have these, we will meet with you to go over the requests for admission. That said, there is no reason to panic if you receive requests for admission; they are an indication of the other party’s strategy, not of your strength as a litigant.
Responding to Discovery Requests: A Time-Sensitive Matter
We have a limited 21-day window to reply to discovery requests, so your swift assistance is crucial. Failure to participate may lead to serious consequences, ranging from fines to limitations in presenting evidence during the trial.
Responding promptly is vital. The sooner you provide the necessary information, the more efficiently we can edit and strategize for your case. Waiting may impede our ability to thoroughly plan our approach. Your cooperation is essential for a successful outcome.
Answering Discovery Requests: Important Things to Remember
- Normal Process: Discovery is a regular part of litigation. It’s not an attack on you; it’s a standard legal procedure.
- Honesty is Vital: Never ignore or provide false information in your responses. Such actions can result in legal consequences and negatively impact your divorce case. If there is information that is truly private or otherwise damaging to you, discuss that with us, and we will see if there is a way to ethically protect that information.
- Regular Updates: If your circumstances change, promptly update us. Timely updates ensure the accuracy of your responses throughout the case.
- Trust the Strategy: Some aspects of the response process involve strategic considerations. Trust our expertise to handle legal objections effectively. If we need to make objections, don’t be surprised if you see them in our final response to the other party.
At Slovensky Law, we’re dedicated to providing you with the support and guidance needed during this challenging time. By following these steps, you’ll not only navigate the discovery process effectively but also contribute to building a strong foundation for your case. Remember, your cooperation is vital, allowing us to implement the most effective strategies on your behalf.
If you have more questions or need legal assistance with your upcoming divorce in Virginia, please give us a call. We stand ready to advise and assist you with any family law matters.