What is this 'discovery' term my attorney keeps talking about in my divorce or paternity case?
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
When I'm discussing something I'm interested in, I seem to talk even faster than usual. I thought I'd post this blog because I think clients get confused with all the new terms that they have to learn and understand when they're involved in a family law case, be it divorce, paternity, a modification of them, whatever. I tend to define new terms for my client and then refer to them extensively, assuming they've retained every single thing I've ever told them. Hopefully, this post can provide you with a little refresher if you're feeling overwhelmed.
In Family Law, 'discovery' is simply the process we go through to exchange data between the parties. The most common data involves financial information, but it can include info about your children, criminal histories, your new romantic partners, really anything you can think of. But, again, the most common info exchanged relates to money in some way.
I prefer to break 'discovery' down into two categories: basic and extensive.
Basic discovery in a Florida family case includes a financial affidavit, tax returns, paystubs, any other income-related documents, bank statements, credit card statements, info on life or health insurance (including dental and vision), deeds to real estate, lease agreements, or previous court orders issued, or agreements reached, in your case. There are a few other items involved but they come up less often. You will always receive a checklist from me listing all of the basic discovery you must provide.
Basic discovery is mandatory in Florida. This means all parties in every family law case must provide it. (However, I have to say, and you will hear this over and over from me, that there are exceptions to every rule in Florida family law. In a truly uncontested divorce, in certain situations, where there are no children, your discovery obligation can be waived if both parties agree.) In general, you should assume that you will have to turn over at least this basic mandatory disclosure as discovery.
Extensive discovery is not required in every case. It is required when, ta da!, the other side requests it. I assure you, my clients are routinely horrified to receive this extensive discovery demand. I liken it to your basic discovery on steroids. Usually, this means all of the basic discovery, but add on year's worth of those tax returns and bank statements. This can be expensive and time-consuming, so if you receive this extensive demand (usually labeled "REQUEST TO PRODUCE" or "REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION" or "STANDARD INTERROGATORIES"), begin working on it immediately.
Never fear, though! What looks daunting at first can usually be simplified by talking with your attorney. Many of the items requested WILL NOT apply to you, so narrowing down your obligation is very likely.
Stay tuned for more of my blogs regarding these discovery demands.