When you want something, you prepare and plan for it. Divorce is no different!
Most people think of marriage as an emotional bond. They forget that marriage is also a “business-type arrangement.” Think about where you live, what you drive, the bills you pay. Throughout your marriage, how many contracts did you sign with your spouse? In a divorce or legal separation, each spouse has a legal duty to provide full and accurate disclosure of all assets and liabilities in which one or both may have an interest. If something is missed, the court may set aside the whole divorce judgment and you may have to start all over again!
Too often, people file for divorce and then find they do not have information on their assets and liabilities. Perhaps you never had access to the records; they were left behind in the family home or even destroyed. You filed for divorce, and now you are on a roller-coaster ride, not knowing what will happen next, not understanding what is going on or why. Gathering and organizing documents is probably the last thing you want to do when you may be stressed out thinking about your future and perhaps wondering whether you made the right decision.
If you do not have information on your assets and liabilities, you may get records from your spouse or from third parties, such as banks or credit-card companies, through a process known as discovery. Discovery takes many forms, such as depositions, demands for production of documents, and subpoenas. Discovery may go back years.
Once you start discovery, be sure the other side will start sending discovery requests to you. Just because you do not have the records now, does not mean that you will not have to make every effort to get them and produce them. Discovery is probably the most expensive part of a divorce, and it takes time to gather information. All types of discovery have deadlines by which information must be produced. Typically, response is due within 30 days. If you do not respond, the other side may file a court action to force you to produce the information requested and the court may fine you.
Proper preparation can reduce your stress, minimize the need for discovery, and save you attorney fees. It is often easier to get copies of documents before you separate than afterwards. Unless there is an emergency, you may want to gather information for your attorney before you file for divorce. The more you provide, the less has to be discovered and the lower your fees.
Anne B. Howard is a divorce attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Carlsbad, California. She serves North County and San Diego Courts as well as the Hemet Family Court in Riverside County.