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“Doing Discovery” in Family Law Cases: Interrogatories and Requests for Production

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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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

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Should I read this?

Yes, if both of these are true:

  • You are a party in a contested family law case. “Contested” means you and the other party disagree.

  • You want or need more info from the other party about their side of the story.

*Criminal cases: do not use this publication.

*Other types of civil cases. You can use this publication.  

What is discovery?

It is a way to get info from the other party before trial. You can get any info from the other party that is “relevant” to the case.

*“Relevant” means related to the case. (Civil Rule 26.) The next section explains 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’s 26 through 37.

The court where your case is filed may also have its own, local rules.  

How do I find my county’s local rules?

Check your court’s website. Use this directory:  http://www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/?fa=court_rules.local&group=superior.

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

Why do discovery?

Two reasons: 

  • To find out what evidence and arguments the other party might use in their case.

  • For use at trial, to hold the other party to what they said about their case in discovery. 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.

Example 1:  In a divorce, your spouse’s proposed division of property and debts, amount and proof of income, and so on.

Example 2Child support is an issue. Your ex is self-employed. You can use discovery to get exact info about your ex’s financial situation:

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

*You can use interrogatories to ask for electronic data.

  • Using Requests for Production - asking for documents backing up what the other party claims about their finances. Examples:  past tax returns, bank statements, profit and loss statements.

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

Example 3: You want to limit the other party’s time with the children. You can use discovery to ask for:

  • Proof of completion of drug or DV offender treatment

  • Evaluations by treatment providers

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

Are there other ways to get info?

Yes. Here are some:

  • 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

  • Get police reports if you were the victim of a crime, especially if it involved the other party

Are there different ways to do discovery?

Yes. We do not cover them all here.

Written Questions (“Written Interrogatories”) (CR 33)

*You do not need court permission to serve interrogatories on the other party.

A person served with interrogatories has thirty days after service to respond in writing. You must answer each interrogatory separately and fully in writing under oath, unless you object to it. You must explain why you object.

You must sign your answers and objections.

Requests for Documents (“Requests for Production”) (CR 34)

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

A person served with a Request for Production of Documents has 30 days from the time of service to provide the documents. “Documents” includes electronically stored info like computer files, voice mails, emails, web pages, and text messages.

What other kinds of discovery are there?

This publication does NOT cover these: 

Talk to a lawyer if the other party serves you with these or you want to try to serve the other party with these.

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 can, but do not have to, file a Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery with the court just to be safe.

Have a friend who is not a party to the case serve the discovery. Your friend should mail two 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.

How long does the other party have to respond?

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.

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

You can try. A non-party may not want to cooperate. Talk to a lawyer.

The other party served me with interrogatories. What if their questions are not related to our case?

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

The other party served me with a request for production. What if I cannot give the other party what they asked for?

If you have good reason, you can object. Here are some good reasons:

  • Relevance –You think the info the other party 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 info to your case.

  • Privilege –Something 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 must show this info 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 and cannot get a copy of it.

  • 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.

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

First, you must have a conference of counsel. CR 26(i). This just means you should try to work something out.

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. (See sample letter.)

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. CR 37. This asks for a court order forcing the other party to give you your answers. You can also ask the court to

  • Order the other party to pay your attorney’s fees.

  • Find the other party in contempt.

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

The other party served me with discovery requests. Can I just not answer?

Only for very good reasons. Otherwise, the other party can file a Motion to Compel forcing you to answer. They may also ask the court

  • for attorneys’ fees

  • to find you in contempt

You must either file a Reply to the Motion or answer the requests. Talk to a lawyer about replying to a Motion to Compel.  

How do I use discovery answers 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, point this 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.

 

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 April 2018.

© 2018 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.)

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Download Sample Letter Requesting Discovery/Deadline Has Passed

Last Review and Update: Apr 23, 2018
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