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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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3900EN - 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.

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Should I read this?

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 info from the other party about their 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 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 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 filed may also have its own, local rules.

How to find those local rules:

Why should I do discovery?

For two reasons: 

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

  2. 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 like 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, the other party's proposed division of property and debts, amount and proof of income, and so on.

Example 2Child support is an issue. The other party is self-employed.  You may use discovery to get exact info 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 them.

Using Requests for Production:  asking for documents that back 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.

If you want to limit the other party's time with the children, ask here are some things you can ask for in discovery:

  • 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 info?

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. We do not cover them all here.

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 explain why you object. You must sign your answers. The lawyer making the objections must sign them.

*You can also use interrogatories to ask for electronic data.

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.

*"Documents" can include electronically stored info like computer files, voice mails, emails, web pages, and text messages.

This publication does NOT cover: 

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

Requests for Admission (CR 36)  

*Get advice from a lawyer if you are served 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 do not have to file anything in court. You may want file a Proof of Mailing or Hand Delivery 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 their lawyer, if there is 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. 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 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 info 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 info 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 info is relevant, and they need it to put on their case.

  • Not Within Your Possession or Control – You do not own what is asked for and 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 cost too much. It will mean something different in each case. 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 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 them. 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. (This publication includes a sample letter.) That may be all you need 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. Otherwise, the other party may file a Motion to Compel you to answer the discovery requests. They 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 explain how to Reply to a Motion to Compel. Talk to a lawyer.

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 and must tell the truth.
If what they say is very different from any answers they 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.

[Other party's address]

[Date you are sending letter]

Dear [Other Party's Name]:

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 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 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 February 2017.

© 2017 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: Feb 16, 2017
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