After you have filed your case, the next step is the Discovery Phase—the process of gathering information about what you know, what your spouse knows, and what third parties may know about your case. Discovery reaches not only financial information but any information necessary to your case. It can include information available from the other party or third parties regarding issues surrounding the divorce, including facts concerning your financial life or those related to the children, adultery, possible abuse and neglect and other issues.
Discovery is a necessary step in a dissolution of marriage proceeding because it allows both parties to understand what the facts are and what proof is available for their respective positions in a case.
Discovery of the parties’ financial situation is critically important as it ultimately impacts such issues as equitable distribution, spousal support, child support and even attorney’s fees. It can be a tool to force a party to identify the assets and liability of which they are aware, including what assets and liabilities each party had prior to the marriage. An asset is something that a person owns, like a house, retirement account, a bank account, a pension, a business or a car.
Mandatory Discovery. In Florida, each party is required to provide what is known as “mandatory disclosure” or disclosure of certain financial information relative to a case. This information is mandatory or automatic to help reduce costs, expedite the exchange of information and help move cases more quickly through the system. It is possible in some cases for the parties to agree to waive mandatory disclosure.
One of the key documents that is part of mandatory discovery is a financial affidavit. The financial affidavit requires that each spouse disclose his or her income, including but not limited to:
- Business Income
- Interest income from any investments
- Alimony from a previous marriage
- Trust income
- Rental income
- Social Security
The financial affidavit is completed and sworn to and it is important that the income reported on financial affidavits is accurate. It can show a need for—or an ability to pay—spousal support and it comprises the most significant element of a child support calculation. Not only will the parties rely on the information in the financial affidavit, but if asked to rule in a financial issue, the court may also rely on the affidavit to reach a decision regarding the financial aspects of the divorce. If completed properly, the financial affidavit will show the other side and the court the assets and liabilities that need to be divided in this process as well as a complete picture of your financial situation.
Other documents that may be part of mandatory disclosure include Income tax returns, pay stubs, loan applications, bank records, credit card account statements, recent retirement account information and specific insurance information, for example.
In addition to exchanging mandatory disclosure, there are other formal discovery methods that you or your attorney may use to verify the information provided by your spouse or to secure new information. The information needed will determine the discovery device used, but some available options include:
- Requests to produce
- Request for admissions
Each of these discovery devices allows you to gain further insight into your spouse’s case, not only regarding any financial issues but also regarding other factual issues.
While interrogatories, production requests, subpoenas and depositions are formal discovery devices, releases are a great informal discovery device. In some cases, the other party may sign a release, permission or authorization for you to obtain information directly from a third party as if the other party were making a request. A release can help speed up the discovery process because it gives you access to needed information without the expense of formal discovery. If you can limit discovery issues in your divorce, you can keep your attorneys’ fees and costs down.
At Nicole L. Goetz, P.L. we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the divorce process from start to finish, including all elements of the Discovery Phase. If you have questions, would like to receive more information, or need a family law attorney to assist you during this difficult and often complicated process, please call our office in Naples, Florida at 239-325-5030 to schedule a confidential consultation with our attorneys.
The information provided on law and legal topics is designed for general information only and does not constitute nor should it be considered legal advice. It is not a substitute nor should it be considered a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney knowledgeable about your specific factual situation.