The Role of Discovery in Divorce Proceedings in Tennessee

Knoxville attorneys help you get to the bottom of your divorce

If you’re going through a contested or disputed divorce, one of the legal steps in ending your marriage is called “discovery.” Both sides and their attorneys gather as much facts and information as possible in order to get a true and clear understanding of each party’s finances, assets, and debts. It’s absolutely vital you have all this information so you’re not cheated out of your fair share of the marital property.

The discovery process requires attention to detail, thoughtful and strategic research, and smart attorneys who know exactly what to look for and where to look for it. The Knoxville divorce lawyers at LaFevor & Slaughter have decades of experience helping people just like you work through the discovery process with efficiency and ease.

What is divorce discovery?

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 typically starts with the filing of a set of written questions called interrogatories, 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.

Different types of discovery

Interrogatories

Interrogatories are sets of written questions used to get info from the other spouse. Basically it’s just questions from you and your attorney to your spouse and their attorney, and they’re required to provide truthful answers under oath. The “under oath” is the key here, because if either party provides false information during an interrogatory, the court can hold them responsible for any consequences. Any information gathered during interrogatories can be admitted as evidence during your divorce trial.

Interrogatories can be broad or specific. For example, a broad interrogatory might ask, “How would you describe your relationship with your children?” A specific interrogatory might ask, “Do you agree that last year your gross income was $63,000?”

Depositions

Another discovery device, depositions are transcripts of spoken testimony. Again, depositions happen under oath, but before the trial. A person giving a deposition meets with and answers questions from an attorney, and then a court reporter types it all up to use at the divorce trial. Depositions are just another way to gather information and allows your attorney and your spouse’s attorney to see what the “other side” is bringing to the table. The court often uses depositions for expert witnesses to determine both their credibility and their opinions on specific aspects of your case.

Requests for Admissions

A Request for Admission in Tennessee is another set of written questions, similar but not quite, to an interrogatory. You and your attorney serve a Request for Admissions to your spouse, asking them to verify or admit the truth about certain events or facts about your marriage/divorce. Your wife or husband then has 30 days to respond to this request. If they don’t? A judge may take that lack of response and rule the request in your favor. Whether you are the sender of a Request for Admissions or the recipient, any allegations in the request could be ruled true – even if they’re not – if the recipient doesn’t bother to answer the request. And, if your spouse denies or lies about something in the request, they may end up owing you attorney fees. The team at LaFevor & Slaughter can explain more.

Subpoenas

Subpoenas are another way to require valuable witnesses or subject matter experts to testify or produce evidence specific to your divorce. A subpoena is a legal document, and if the recipient refuses to obey or acknowledge it, they may face a heap of penalties. Subpoenas are mostly used to order people to attend a deposition, appear as a witness in a trial, or hand over items like important documents and evidence.

Here’s even more information about discovery, straight from the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.

How much is discovery going to cost me?

Well, there’s no specific answer and no specific formula. The discovery process can be short and inexpensive, or lengthy and very expensive. The extent of discovery usually depends on the size of the assets contained in the marital estate. For example, if one of the parties owns a business which has a lot of 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 (called a business valuation).

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 based upon certain allegations in the pleadings, is probably the next most expensive – usually another $5,000 to $10,000.

In some divorces, though, the attorneys can agree to exchange discovery informally, requesting documents by mail and providing the documents, without having to resort to going to trial or involving the court. This can reduce costs significantly. And, of course, the choice of procedure will vary based upon the circumstances of the case.  For instance, if both spouses aren’t familiar with their total assets or financial positions, a more formal process may be used.

Why isn’t all discovery informal, then?

Not all divorces lend themselves well to informal discovery. Some attorneys advise against informal discovery, because the documents produced by an opposing party are not handed over 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, nothing but the 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 they relied on the misstatements or incomplete production of documents. Informal discovery can get tricky, but it’s not impossible if everyone is willing to be open, trusting, and transparent. Talk to our Knoxville family law attorneys to find out what discovery devices might work best for you.

Why is the discovery process so important in a divorce?

Going through a divorce, especially a contentious one, discovery is the best way to get all the information you – and the court – need for a fair and equitable property distribution. You and your attorney can request documents and information regarding your spouse’s assets and property, and anything else related to your divorce. Typically you can access this info from Requests for Production of Documents and interrogatories.

Other things to keep in mind during the Tennessee discovery process

All requests for discovery require a proper response, filed within a specific amount of time. If you receive any type of discovery request, provide it to your attorney ASAP – many of the questions may need some research and time to answer, so it’s vital you don’t wait until the last minute to respond to one.

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Knoxville divorce attorneys helping you prepare for a brighter future

Going through a divorce can be a stressful, overwhelming, and time-consuming experience. You shouldn’t have to worry about all the financial details. At LaFevor & Slaughter, our lawyers give you an honest look at all factors in your divorce, so you know exactly what to expect and we know exactly how to strategize. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.