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Financial Discovery Issues in Divorce Cases

Divorce results not only in severing a personal relationship, but also in terminating an economic one. Investigating economic issues in divorce litigation usually involves the process called “discovery.” Discovery is the legal process of obtaining important information during litigation, including divorce. Spouses use discovery tools, such as depositions, interrogatories, and requests for admissions and documents, to gather information from each other and from third party sources, including banks or employers. The formal discovery process begins after the divorce petition is filed, and it continues until the case settles or reaches the pre-trial discovery deadline.

In divorce actions, discovery often is necessary in order to classify and value the marital property correctly and to establish grounds of fault. The volatile nature of divorce can make court-sanctioned discovery necessary, as well as difficult, as the parties’ emotions run high. This is especially true when dealing with property and with custody matters.

In divorce, financial discovery concentrates on the economic aspects of the marriage and the spouses’ financial circumstances. Detailed financial discovery allows both spouses to obtain the information needed to present a complete and accurate representation of the family’s assets and liabilities. With that information, the divorce court can fashion a fair marital property division and an appropriate support order.

In addition, thorough pre-trial discovery of the parties’ assets and liabilities often prompts the parties to settle disputes without trial. Documents and testimony that are obtained through discovery may be used to make informed settlement decisions or for trial preparation. Discovery also can come into play when dealing with post-divorce disputes over, or enforcement or modification of, alimony and child support.

Discovery can take place through an informal exchange of information and documents by the parties and their attorneys, which is common in divorce cases, or the process can follow a number of more rigid procedures. One role that discovery fills is to provide each party with current information about changes in the other party’s financial status occurring since the parties separated. It is common for the flow of financial information between spouses to cease after separation, and court-sanctioned discovery may be the only way to pry such information from the opposing party.