While your case is in the court system, you have the opportunity to "discover" information from the other party. Usually, this information is financial, but it could be on other topics as well. Most of the time, it is in the form of documents such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements and the like.
The Financial Affidavit
The most common type of discovery is the Financial Affidavit, which you will need to fill out yourself in most cases and exchange with the other party. The affidavit is also called the Form 813 and it has two parts 813A and 813B. If you have minor children, the court will expect you to file your Financial Affidavits before the Case Manager's Conference.
In most cases, there is not a lot to discover. If you and the other party have exchanged Financial Affidavits and share most accounts, you likely have access to all of the same financial information anyway. Lawyers will often simply ask each other to provide basic documents to back up the numbers the parties used on their Financial Affidavits and you can do the same thing without a lawyer. Some things to ask for:
Income tax returns
Credit card statements
Lease or loan documents for the vehicles
If the other party does not provide these informally, you can use interrogatories or depositions to get more information or an order from the court forcing the other party to provide them. You can learn more about these in the section below about Formal Discovery.
TIP: Some lawyers use Formal Discovery more often than necessary. There are a few who use interrogatories in every single case. This may not be necessary in your case and may simply drive up your attorney's fees. If you wonder if Formal Discovery is necessary in your case, have a frank discussion with your lawyer about what the lawyer hopes to accomplish by using formal discovery methods.
If Informal Discovery does not work or if there are issues in your case that are more complex than usual, you may need to use the Formal Discovery process.
There are two basic types of Formal Discovery in family court cases:
Interrogatories: These are written questions that one party sends to the other that must be answered in writing. Interrogatories are often helpful if the other party is not cooperative with your Informal Discovery requests. These questions must be in writing, and must be relevant to the case. You may not send more than 25 distinct questions. The questions may not inquire about these issues: infidelity, physical abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse or neglect unless there is an order from the judge allowing these questions specifically in interrogatories. The party receiving Interrogatories must answer them in writing and sign the answers under oath before a notary within 30 days.
Requests to Produce: These are written requests that the other party provide you with copies of specific documents. These are nearly always financial documents, like tax returns, bank statements, retirement account statements, and similar financial records. The other party must provide them within thirty days. Often these are combined with interrogatories.
Depositions: These are formal interviews under oath before a court reporter. Depositions are used rarely in family court cases, but are common in other types of lawsuits.