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How Do I “Do Discovery?” Help with Interrogatories and Requests for Production in Family Law Cases

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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3900EN - Use this publication if: you are a party in a contested family law case (“contested” means you and the other party disagree about issues) AND you want or need to get more information from the other party about his/her side of the issues.

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Information

Should I use this publication?

Yes, if:

  • You are a party in a contested family law case ("contested" means you and the other party disagree about issues) AND
  • You want or need more information from the other party about his/her side of the issues

*Do not use this publication for other types of civil cases or for criminal cases.

 

What is discovery?

It is a way for you to get information from the other party before trial. You can get any information from the other party that is "relevant" to the case. "Relevant" means the information is related to the case.  (Civil Rule 26). (The next section has information on the Civil Rules.)

Are there rules on how to do discovery?

Yes. The Civil Rules for Superior Court, or Civil Rules (CR for short), for discovery are at CR 26 through 37. The court where your case is may also have its own, local rules.  How to find those local rules:

Why should I do discovery?

For two reasons: 

  • To find out what evidence and arguments the other party might use in its case AND

  • For use at trial, to hold the other party to what s/he said about her case in discovery. (You can make the other party look like s/he does not always tell the truth. Or you can make sure the other party keeps her/his story straight.)   

Discovery can especially help you find out facts about and supporting evidence for the other party's likely claims at trial.

Example:  In a divorce, the other party's proposed division of property and debts, amount and proof of income, and so on.

Another exampleChild support is an issue in your case. The other party is self-employed.  You may use discovery to get exact information about the other party's financial situation:

  • Using interrogatories – asking questions about where the other party worked in the past year, and how much each job paid him/her.

  • Using Requests for Production – asking for documents that back up what the other party claims about his/her finances. Examples:  past tax returns, bank statements, profit and loss statements, and so on.

  • Using Informal Discovery: asking for copies of back tax returns from the local IRS office.

Examples of things to ask for in discovery where you want to limit the other party's time with the children:

  • Proof of completion of drug or DV offender treatment

  • Evaluations by treatment providers

*If there is a GAL or Family Court investigator in your case, you can give them copies of any documents you got through discovery that may help your case.

Are there other ways to get information?

Yes. We do not cover all those ways in detail. Here are some ways:

  • Internet searches (free search engines such as Google; paid search engines such as mylife.com)

  • Searches of courthouse records and other public files (examples:  license filings)

  • Talking to other people who know the other party and do not have lawyers

  • Ask for police reports from the police department who responded if you were the victim of a crime, especially an incident involving the other party

Are there different ways to do discovery?

Yes. This publication only covers a few ways.

Written Questions ("Written Interrogatories") (CR 33)

You do not need court permission to serve written questions (interrogatories) on the other party.

If you have been served with interrogatories, you have thirty days after service to respond in writing. You must answer each question/interrogatory separately and fully in writing under oath, unless you object to it. In that case, you must write out why you object. You must sign your answers. The lawyer making the objections must sign them.

Requests for Documents ("Requests for Production") (CR 34)

You do not need court permission to serve a request for production of documents on the other party.

If you were served with a Request for Production of Documents, you have 30 days from the time of service to provide the documents.

Methods of discovery this publication does NOT cover: 

*Get advice from a lawyer if you are served with these or you want to try to serve the other party with these.

  • Depositions (CR 30 & 31) – our publication called Depositions has more information

  • Requests for Admission (CR 36)  

How do I get my discovery requests to the other party?

The law calls it "serving" discovery. It is not like serving court papers. You do not have to file anything in court. You may want file a Return of Service with the court just to be safe.

You should have a friend who is not a party to the case serve the discovery. Your friend should mail two copies of the list of interrogatories/requests for production to the other party, or his/her lawyer, if there is one. Save a copy of your requests for yourself.

The other party has 30 days to answer from the time s/he gets your discovery requests. The other party must answer in writing in the forms you sent.

Can I use discovery to get information from someone who is NOT a party to the case?

You may try. It can be hard getting a non-party to cooperate. Talk to a lawyer.

I was served with interrogatories. What if I do not think the questions are related to our case?

You must explain in writing why the each question is not relevant (irrelevant). You must still answer all relevant questions.

I was served with a request for production of documents. What if I cannot give the other party the things they asked for?

If you have good reason, you can object. Your reason/s would need to be:

  • Relevance – If you think the information the other party asked for is not relevant to the case. Beware of this objection. "Relevant" can mean anything related to your case. It does not have to be the most important information to your case.

  • Privilege – If anything they asked for is a communication (letter, e-mail) between you and a lawyer, doctor, counselor, or Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault Advocate.

  • Work Product – You do not have to give them work a lawyer did on your case.

  • Trade Secrets and Confidential Research – The other party will have to show this information is relevant, and that s/he needs it to put on his/her case.

  • Not Within Your Possession or Control – You do not own what is asked for. You cannot get a copy of it.

  • Unduly burdensome or overly broad – This may mean the other party is asking for too much from you. It may mean it would take too much time and effort to answer, or would cost too much. It will mean something different in each case. Talk to a lawyer if you think this may apply to you.

I served the other party with discovery. Their deadline to answer has passed. How do I get them to answer?

The court rules say that first you must have a conference of counsel. CR 26(i). This does not mean you must meet with the other party. It means you should try to work out something with the other party. You should send the other party a letter or email first. Keep a copy of the letter/email as proof that you tried to work out getting your discovery responses. (A sample letter is included with this publication.) Sometimes that will be all you have to do.

If the other party still does not give you answers to your discovery requests, and has no good reason for not doing so, you may file a Motion to Compel with the court. CR 37. This asks the court to order the other party to give you your answers. You may also ask the court to:

  • Order the other party to pay your attorney's fees

  • Find the other party in contempt

*This publication will not help you file a Motion to Compel. Talk to a lawyer.

I was served with discovery requests. What if I do not answer at all?

You must have very good reasons for not answering. If you do not, the other party may file a Motion to Compel you to answer the discovery requests. S/he may also ask the court

  • for attorneys' fees

  • to find you in contempt

You will need to either file a Reply to the Motion or answer the requests. This publication does not have information on how to Reply to a Motion to Compel. Talk to a lawyer.

How do I use Discovery answers at trial?

Listen with care to what the other party says when s/he is on the witness stand. S/he is under oath and must tell the truth.

If what s/he says is very different from any answers s/he gave you, point this out to the judge. If it happens too many times, you may want to tell the judge the other party may have a problem telling the truth about important issues.

Talk to a lawyer for more help with this.

Sample Letter:  Other party did not answer your discovery requests. Deadline to do so has passed.

 

[Address of other party]

[Date you are sending letter]

Dear [Name of Other Party]:

I am writing because I sent you discovery requests on [date you sent them]. You should have sent me answers to my requests by [deadline that other party has missed].

Please call me or write me by no later than [new deadline] to talk about this. If I do not hear from you by [new deadline], I may have no choice but to file a Motion to Compel.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours truly,

 

[Your name]

 

 

3900EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of December 2014.

© 2014 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to
individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Dec 09, 2014
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