What is Discovery in a Family Law Case?

Discovery is a critical piece of any divorce here in Bucks County.  Discovery refers to the sharing of information by both parties.  It can be formal (involving court orders) or informal when both attorneys are satisfied that ALL information has been shared. Although there are limits on what must be disclosed, both parties should cooperate fully and honestly when they provide information and documents so that the issue can be resolved completely and fairly. 

How Does Discovery Work? 

Discovery happens after a complaint is filed and, depending on the case, could take months or years. It includes: 

  • Questions (or interrogatories)   
  • Documents in physical or electronic form (or requests for production) 
  • Admission or denial of factual statements (or requests for admissions) 
  • Opportunity for a party’s attorney to question the opposing party and their witnesses under oath while the process is being recorded or transcribed (a deposition)

These requests need to be relevant and not overly complex or argumentative. Certain things are out of bounds, like communications between a party and their attorney. Inquiries into what happened long before the marriage or about issues that will not shed any light on what is in dispute (something lawyers like to call a “fishing expedition”) are also inappropriate.  

The attorney representing the party receiving such discovery requests can object to them and not respond or only respond partially. If the attorney propounding the requests wants to push the issue, they can ask the case’s judge to decide whether the objection is valid or not and, if so, what limits there can be to the response. 

Is Discovery a Big Deal? 

The importance of discovery varies on the complexity of the matter. If it is fairly simple, like a divorce between a couple with few assets and no kids, it is less critical. The more complicated the case, the more important discovery becomes. If a: 

  • Spouse owns a business, there will be questions asked and documents requested concerning its financial situation, how profitable it is, and whether it is being used to hide marital property 
  • Spouse is accused of abusing or neglecting kids in a custody dispute, those allegations need to be proven. Parties and witnesses will be deposed to determine if there is any substance to the claims 
  • Party uses an expert to put a value on a family-owned business or marital property like real estate or an art collection, questions about that can be asked, and the expert should be deposed. The same is true if a parent involved in a custody dispute hires a child psychologist to evaluate a child and their relationship with their parents  

Discovery helps both parties fully understand the facts and issues involved. They can adjust their strategy if the facts are not what they expected. Additional facts may fuel new legal issues. 

This improved understanding also puts the parties in a better position to negotiate a settlement. All the relevant facts should be known, and the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ cases should be more apparent. Instead of having a judge or jury decide the matter, the parties take control and resolve the matter themselves. 

Get the Help You Need from an Attorney You Can Trust 

If you are considering a divorce or have questions about the legal process, call our office at (215) 608-1867. We can speak over the phone, via a teleconference, or meet in our Doylestown or Langhorne offices.