Discovery in family law cases

If you need information from your spouse, domestic partner, or someone else, you can use a legal process (called discovery) to get this information. The person you need information or answers from is required to respond to your request.

What is discovery and when is it necessary?

Get information you need to support your case

Discovery is a way to get the information you need to support your case in court or make informed decisions before you reach an agreement.

You use discovery to find out:

  • What your spouse plans to say about an issue
  • What facts or witnesses support their side
  • What facts or witnesses support your side
  • Any information or documents that are only available to your spouse that show assets you own and debts you owe

You use the information you get to help you reach an agreement (negotiate). If you don’t agree, you use the information you gather as evidence in a hearing or trial.

  • example: community or separate property?

    You and your spouse disagree whether something is community or separate property. You ask your spouse for:

    • Receipts from payments
    • Records from the purchase

     

    With that information, you may find out that money made during your marriage was used to pay for property. It is part community property. Since you both have the same information, you and your spouse may be able to agree or decide you need a judge to decide and go to trial.

The other person must respond to your request and swear how they responded is true

In a formal discovery, you formally ask for information and documents.

  • You write a formal request for information
  • A server mails the request to your spouse
  • Your spouse has 30 days (35 days if served by mail inside California) to respond under oath

You can also ask other people for information. For example, you may need documents from your spouse’s employer. They also must respond.

The easiest way to get basic information is with Form Interrogatories

One type of discovery is an interrogatory. Form Interrogatories are a set of questions on a form asking the other person to give you information or documents. For common questions, you can use a form (a form interrogatory) and check the boxes next to the questions you want the other person to answer.

Interrogatory is a legal word for question.

In a divorce you can use:

Form Interrogatories – Family Law (form FL-145)

This form asks for basic information about the other person’s finances and property. You check boxes on it to ask for things like who lives with them, if they gave away any property, or their health history that might impact their ability to work.

Once you serve the completed Form Interrogatories – Family Law, the other person has 30 days to respond.

If you don't get a response or get an incomplete response, there's a court process you can use to request that the judge order your spouse to respond or give complete responses. Learn what to do if your spouse doesn't respond

How to use Form Interrogatories

 

Besides the Form Interrogatories, you can use other types of requests to conduct discovery and get information. The type you use will depend on what information you need.

  • Ask the other person to answer written questions under oath

    Use Special Interrogatories. These are not from a checklist like the Form Interrogatories. The answers can be used at trial.

  • Ask the other person to provide a document

    Use Request for Production of documents

  • Ask the other person to say if something is true

    Use Request for Admission

  • Require the other person (or someone else) to testify

    Use a subpoena. This is a court order that requires the other side or someone else to testify or provide something, like a document.

  • Require someone to answer questions under oath (not in a courtroom)

    Use a notice of deposition. This could be the other person in your case or someone else, like an expert (called a third party).

These types of discovery are more complicated than Form Interrogatories, so you might consider getting help from your court's Self-Help Center or a local law library if you want to use them. 

Learn how to conduct other types of discovery

 

You have a limited amount of time to conduct discovery

Formal requests asking your spouse for information, answers to questions, or documents must be completed no later than 30 days before the first date set for trial.

Because each of these discovery types take at least 30 days to complete (35 if served by mail), this means that the last date to personally serve a written discovery request to the other person is 60 days before the first date set for trial, or 65 days if it is served by mail. If the trial date is moved (continued), the cutoff date for discovery does not move unless ordered by the judge.

In this case, your deadline is the next week day.

Family law discovery

What's next?

If you can get the information you need using a form interrogatory, follow the step-by-step instructions for using this type of discovery.

 

If you need other types of information for your case, learn more about the other types of discovery tools that are available.