How to use written questions and requests for documents in a family law case

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Read this 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 their side of the issues. #3900EN

Please Note:

  • You can use this if you are involved in a family law case in a Washington State Superior Court. Some of this information will also help in other types of civil (non-criminal) cases.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, if both of these are true:

  • You are a party in a contested family law case. You are a "party" to a case if you either filed the case or received court papers naming you a Respondent. "Contested" means you and the other party to the case disagree.
  • You want or need more information from the other party about their side of the story.
* Criminal cases: Do not use this packet.
* Other types of civil cases. You can use this packet. The information here will work in your case as well.

Discovery, also called "doing discovery," is a way to get information from the other party before trial. You can get any information from the other party that is related to (relevant to) the case.

Yes. The Civil Rules for Superior Court, or Civil Rules (CR), for discovery are at CR's 26 through 37. You can read the Civil Rules at The court where your case is filed may also have its own, local rules.  

Talk to the court clerk or, if your county has one, the court facilitator.

There are 2 good reasons: 

  • To find out what evidence and arguments the other party might use in their case.
  • For use at trial, if what the other party says on the stand is very different to any answers they gave you in discovery. You can use their discovery answers to point their inconsistency out to the judge. If it happens too many times, you might tell the judge the other party may have a problem telling the truth about important issues. You can make the other party look as if they do not always tell the truth. Or you can make sure they keep their story straight.  

Discovery can especially help you find out facts and supporting evidence for the other party's likely claims at trial. It can also help you decide how good the other party's case is and if you should or want to try to come to some sort of agreement instead of having a trial.

Example 1: Child support is an issue. Your children's other parent is self-employed. You believe the other parent has understated how much they earn. It would help you to have proof of where the other party worked in the past year, and how much each job paid. It would also help to be able to see documents showing what the other party claims about their finances, such as past tax returns, bank statements, and profit and loss statements.

Example 2: Due to the parent's recent behavior, you are concerned about the children's safety when they are with the other parent. Depending on your reasons, you might want to see proof of completion of drug or domestic violence offender treatment, or evaluations by treatment providers.

Yes. Here are some:

  • Searching courthouse records.
  • Searching other public files. For example, you can look for what property is listed in a party's name (deeds). You can find out the property's taxable value and if there are any liens on the property. You can check the other party's license filings, such as drivers or professional license. You can check to see if the other party owes property taxes. You can get information about vehicles and mobile homes you and the other party own or have owned together.
  • Talking to other people who know the other party and do not have lawyers.
  • Getting police reports if you were the victim of a crime, especially if it involved the other party.

Yes. We do not cover them all here. There is a sample request at the end of this guide. Here are 2 ways to do discovery:

  • Written Questions ("Written Interrogatories") (The court rule about these is CR 33.)
  • A person who receives interrogatories has 30 days  to respond in writing. You must answer each interrogatory separately and fully in writing under oath, unless you believe there is a legal reason not to answer it (if you object to it). You must explain why you object. You must sign your answers and objections.
  • Requests for Documents ("Requests for Production") (The court rule about these is CR 34.)
  • Someone who receives a Request for Production of Documents has 30 days to provide the documents. "Documents" includes electronically stored information like computer files, voice mails, emails, web pages, and text messages.

No. You do not need court permission to do discovery.

The law calls it "serving" discovery. It is not like serving court papers. You can, but do not have to, file a Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery with the court so you have a record that the other party received your discovery requests.

Have a friend who is not a party to the case serve the discovery. Your friend should mail 2 copies of the interrogatories and/or requests for production to the other party, or their lawyer, if they have one. Save a copy of your requests for yourself.

The other party has 30 days to answer from the time they get your discovery requests. They must answer in writing in the forms you sent.

You can try, but it is hard to do without a lawyer.


Yes. You must first make sure you know very well what the discovery answers say before trial. You will also have to learn how to submit the discovery answers to the trial judge so the judge can read them as well. Depending on the judge hearing your case, this could be complicated.

You might be able to get a lawyer to help prepare you to represent yourself for trial in this way. Some lawyers will do this type of "unbundled" work for a small fee or for no charge. See contact info at the end of this guide.

Once you are at trial, listen carefully to what the other party says when they are on the witness stand. They are under oath. They must tell the truth.

If what they say is very different from any answers that they gave you, you can use the other party's discovery answers to point their inconsistency out to the judge. If it happens too many times, you might tell the judge the other party may have a problem telling the truth about important issues.

Talk to a lawyer for more help.

First, you must have a "conference of counsel." This just means you should try to work something out.  You can read the court rule about this at CR 26(i). Send the other party a letter or email. Keep a copy of the letter or email as proof that you tried to work out getting your responses. (We have included a sample letter at the end of this guide.)

If the other party still does not give you answers to your requests, and has no good reason, you can file a Motion to Compel. This motion asks for a court order forcing the other party to give you your answers.  You can read the court rule about this at CR 37. You can also ask the court to order the other party to pay your attorney's fees or find the other party in contempt.

For help filing a Motion to Compel, talk to a lawyer.

If you have good reason, you can object. An objection is also a type of answer. It is not just ignoring the question and not saying anything in response.

Here are some good reasons to object to a request:

  • Relevance – You think what they asked for is not relevant to the case. Beware: "Relevant" can be anything related to your case. It does not have to be the most important information to your case. You must explain in writing why the question is not related to the case (why it is irrelevant). You must still answer all relevant questions.
  • Privilege – Something they asked for is a letter or 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 to get ready for your case or for trial. This protects things like the lawyer's legal research and the lawyer's correspondence with your witnesses or experts.
  • Trade Secrets and Confidential Research – The other party must show this is relevant and they need it to be able to put on their case.
  • Not Within Your Possession or Control – You do not own what the other party asked for. You cannot get a copy of it.  For example, in a custody case, the other party wants the mental health records for your now-18-year-old child. The other party thinks these records will show you have been a bad parent to the younger children still in your home. You cannot get those records if your adult child will not agree to release them to you.
  • Unduly burdensome or overly broad – They are asking for too much or it would take too much time and effort to answer or cost too much. Talk to a lawyer if you think this applies to you.

You need very good reasons to not reply to discovery requests. Otherwise, the other party can file a Motion to Compel forcing you to answer. They may also ask the court for attorneys' fees or to find you in contempt.

If you receive a Motion to Compel, you must either file a Reply to the Motion or answer the requests. Talk to a lawyer about replying to a Motion to Compel  

We do not cover Depositions (CR 30 & 31) or Requests for Admission (CR 36) here. Talk to a lawyer if the other party serves you with these or you want to try to serve the other party with these.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Download Sample Interrogatories and Requests for Production Form

Download Sample Letter Requesting Discovery/Deadline Has Passed

Last Review and Update: Jan 18, 2023
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