The Role of Discovery in Divorce Proceedings in Tennessee
Estimating the costs of a divorce in Knoxville
After an initial complaint is filed, a couple who wishes to divorce may choose to settle the matter and avoid a trial. If the parties do not immediately begin settlement negotiations, the next phase of the lawsuit is called discovery. Discovery is most commonly begun with the filing of a set of written questions which must be answered under oath, and a Request for Production of Documents, which requires the other party to provide certain documents listed within the request. The answers and documents usually must be produced within 30 days. Other forms of discovery including depositions, subpoenas, and Requests for Admission are used if required.
The cost of information
The discovery process can be short and inexpensive or lengthy and very expensive. The extent of discovery usually depends on the size and make-up of the marital estate. For example, if one of the parties owns a business which has many employees and produces significant income, the other spouse will most likely hire an expert to review and investigate the books and records of the company to determine its value. Performing a business valuation can be one of the most expensive aspects of any divorce, and it can cost tens of thousands of dollars. A family psychological evaluation, required by some courts require based upon certain allegations in the pleadings, is probably the next most expensive – usually another $5,000 to $10,000.
In some divorces, the attorneys can agree to exchange discovery informally, requesting documents by letters and providing the documents without recourse to the legal process. This can reduce costs significantly. The choice of procedure will vary based upon the circumstances of the case. For instance, if both spouses are not familiar with the parties’ total assets or financial positions, more formal process may be used.
Why isn’t all discovery informal, then?
A lawyer may advise against proceeding with discovery informally because the documents produced by an opposing party will not be under oath. Answering interrogatories and producing documents under oath means that the person answering the questions and producing the documents is vouching for the full truth and is subject to the criminal penalty of perjury. Most divorcing spouses are not willing to commit perjury to gain an advantage in a divorce. If full discovery is used and if one spouse lies or omits assets under oath during the discovery process, the other spouse can use that lie or omission to allege circumstances sufficient to undo the divorce because he or she relied on the misstatements or incomplete production of documents.
The role of depositions
Depositions are another form of discovery. An advantage of taking discovery through depositions is that your lawyer will be able to view your spouse live and in action, seeing a performance similar to what might occur in a courtroom if the matter proceeds to trial. Further, in interrogatories and requests for production of documents there is oftentimes a follow-up question or a series of follow-up questions which should be asked concerning the response. In written forms of discovery, a lawyer cannot do that effectively. A deposition provides the follow up opportunity. One disadvantage to the deposition process is that it can be very expensive. During the deposition, at least two lawyers will be billing time, in addition to the court reporter’s fees for attendance and transcription. Sometimes, a video recording of the deposition is made, which can cost more. It is not unusual for a lawyer to spend at least twice the number of hours preparing for a deposition that he/she spends actually taking or defending a deposition. Depositions may take place before or after mediation.
Helping families budget for their new futures
Going through a divorce can be very stressful. You should not have to worry about the financial aspects. At LaFevor & Slaughter, we offer you an honest look at all factors in your divorce, so you can budget accordingly. Please call 865.272.4454 or fill out our convenient contact form to schedule an appointment at our Knoxville office.