DISCOVERY IN CALIFORNIA FAMILY LAW MATTERS
While each party in a family law proceeding is subject to fiduciary duties often times the parties engage in discovery in addition to the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and Final Declaration of Disclosure. Unless otherwise limited by order of the court in accordance with this title, any party may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action or to the determination of any motion made in that action, if the matter either is itself admissible in evidence or appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Discovery may relate to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or of any other party to the action. Discovery may be obtained of the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter, as well as of the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any document, electronically stored information, tangible thing, or land or other property. (Cal Code Civ Proc § 2017.010) http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=2017.010.&lawCode=CCP
Several discovery methods are available and most commonly include a request for Interrogatories, a Request for Production of Documents and a Request for Party Admissions. In a family law matter, the discovery process usually will proceed first with the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure.
PRELIMINARY DECLARATION OF DISCLOSURE
Each party is required to serve on the opposing party a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure which includes basic financial information such as: 1) Schedule of Assets and Debts, 2) Income and Expense Declaration 3) Tax Returns for the past two years 4) a statement of all material facts regarding valuation of community property and 5) a statement of all material facts regarding financial obligations which are community property and 6) a statement describing any business or investment opportunity since the date of separation. https://www.courts.ca.gov/1039.htm
FINAL DECLARATION OF DISCLOSURE
A Final Declaration of Disclosure must set forth all relevant financial information prior to any agreement as follows:
(1) All material facts and information regarding the characterization of all assets and liabilities.
(2) All material facts and information regarding the valuation of all assets that are contended to be community property or in which it is contended the community has an interest.
(3) All material facts and information regarding the amounts of all obligations that are contended to be community obligations or for which it is contended the community has liability.
(4) All material facts and information regarding the earnings, accumulations, and expenses of each party that have been set forth in the income and expense declaration.
Either party may request that the opposing party respond to Form Interrogatories and/or Special Interrogatories. Form Interrogatories are set forth on a form approved by the Judicial Council of the State of California. https://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm?filter=DI Special Interrogatories are questions set forth in writing for which the requesting party wants the opposing party to respond to in writing and under oath. The questions set forth in Special Interrogatories are usually very specific and concern matters which are not already disclosed during the preliminary disclosure process.
REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS
Either party may request that the opposing party provide documents, pictures, emails, text messages and other relevant documents which are relevant to the issues. A request must be limited in scope and duration. A party may not simply demand that the opposing party produce every document, picture, email, text message etc… since the date of the marriage, “Designate the documents, tangible things, land or other property, or electronically stored information to be inspected, copied, tested, or sampled either by specifically describing each individual item or by reasonably particularizing each category of item.” (Cal Code Civ Proc § 2031.030) https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/code-of-civil-procedure/ccp-sect-2031-030.html
REQUEST FOR ADMISSIONS
Either party may request that the opposing party admit that certain facts are true. Requests are usually made to limit the issues that will be disputed at trial and to clarify the facts which are not in dispute. A request for an admission must be very specific and clear, “No request for admission shall contain subparts, or a compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive…” (Cal Code Civ Proc § 2033.060)
Properly preparing and responding to written discovery is a crucial element of every contested divorce proceeding and its importance cannot be underestimated. If you are in need of assistance with discovery in your family law matter you should contact the Law Offices of Sam Walker to ensure that you have an attorney with knowledge and experience in these matters.