11 Jun The Ins and Outs of Discovery in Florida Family Law Cases
If you’re not quite sure what the legal discovery process is, that’s ok, you’re not alone. Many clients are unaware of this very important step and have never heard the term. The discovery process is one of the most important stages of a case. It is absolutely critical to the preparation of every case and is largely responsible for the length of time it takes for a case to go to trial.
The term ‘the discovery process”, as the name suggests, is the process of discovering the evidence necessary to prepare the case as well as discovering as much evidence as possible about what the other party will be presenting at trial. In a family law case, like a divorce or custody hearing, the attorney will need to “discover” or obtain the necessary information to understand the details of the case.
Discovery Process Tools
The primary methods that attorneys use to obtain information are written discovery tools and depositions. Written discovery tools include interrogatories, the request for production of documents to a non-party, the request for production of documents, and requests for admission.
Interrogatories are primarily written questions. The document contains a list of questions written by the attorney who then sends the document to the other party involved in the case. The other involved party is required to answer the questions, affirming their truth under oath. These questions are often very specific as to date and time and the detail of events. Sometimes the questions are purely opinion based like why the part believes they should win the case.
Request for Production of Documents
A request for the production of documents requires that the other party provide all of the documents in his/her possession relevant to the case’s issues. This is often referred to as a subpoena. In family law, this often includes tax returns, bank statements, insurance documents, e-mails, and medical records. This request really varies on the nature of the case.
Request for Production of Documents to a Non-Party
A request for the production of documents to a non-party is a request for information from a party that is not directly involved in the case but whose records may contain relevant information to the case. The most common non-party is an employer. The attorney may submit a request for the production of documents to obtain employment information, verification of income, employment benefits, and other useful information. Other common non-parties are banks, phone companies, and even social media sites like Facebook.
The taking of depositions is a non-written discovery tool. A deposition is recognized as a statement by party or witness that is sworn in the presence of a court reporter. The court reporter is responsible for recording the questions asked of the witness and his/her responses. The court reporter then transcribes the recording into a written transcript of the testimony. This document is often used in the trial to ensure that the witness maintains the same testimony at trial as during the deposition. Depositions represent an incredibly valuable tool to the attorney. However, they come at a hefty price. They’re often expensive because they require that both parties be represented by a lawyer. Not all cases require a deposition, and determination as to the use of this tool is often carefully considered by the attorney.
Requests for Admissions
A request for admission is when one party requests that the other party admit, under oath, to the truth of certain facts or the genuineness of specific documents. These requests are most often used to save time and narrow focus.
What if Either Party is Non-Compliant?
There are legal rules to support the discovery process and ensure that both parts are compliant with reasonable requests. If one party ignores a request for a document that they should reasonably have access too, the court can order the party who did not comply to pay a portion of the other party’s legal fees. Depending on court and location, there may be other, more severe repercussions for parties who continually do not comply with the requests.
As previously mentioned, the discovery process represents one of the most lengthy and frustrating aspects of any court case. However, it is the most important aspect of the case, and it’s necessary that clients understand why it is so impactful. The outcome of the case is dependent upon a thorough discovery process. This is one area that cannot be sacrificed. A quality discovery process ensures that the attorney has the appropriate evidence to litigate the case to the best of his/her ability.