The discovery process in a family law matter is a critical aspect. It’s the formal process of sharing information about each party’s case, and Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents are the primary way to seek information. This article offers tips for responding to Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. Note that these responses are not limited to documents. It includes any tangible item that is responsive and includes such things as video and audio recordings; photographs; electronic media including text messages, email and tweets; articles of clothing; and any number of other tangible items.
First, be aware of the short deadline for responding to these requests. It is generally 21 to 28 days if they were served with the Complaint. Failing to respond on time may result in a Motion to Compel, which is an additional and unnecessary cost. Also keep in mind that your responses are very helpful to your attorney in understanding and preparing your case. It is far better to provide more details or documents than to make the determination yourself that it is not important or relevant. Experience has shown that if you aren’t sure, include it; too much information is better than leaving something critical out.
The Factor Questions
Most Interrogatories and Document Requests are fairly clear as to what information they are seeking. Where people seem to have some difficulty is in what we call the factor questions. These are questions that address the factors, derived from the Code of Virginia or statutes, which the court will use in determining such issues as spousal support, a deviation from the child support guidelines, custody and visitation, and equitable distribution.
The factor questions in the form of an interrogatory are easier because you respond with a description. The factor questions in the form of a document request often present a problem for people in knowing what to provide. While some words may be necessary to explain the item provided, the response should not be a repeat of what was provided in your interrogatory. Emphasis should be on providing tangible items such as photographs, videos or DVDs, email or text messages between the parties and others, school records for minor children, or documents relating to any extracurricular activities of children.
A general tip for all document requests, especially when providing such things as bank statements, credit card statements and even email, is that all pages need to be provided. When pages are numbered, it is not acceptable to provide only page 1 even if pages 2 and 3 have no discernable relevant information. Not providing all the pages always raises questions from opposing counsel about the apparent missing pages.
Lastly, the most important tip for all responses to discovery is to speak with your attorney’s paralegal as soon as you receive the requests. The paralegal can assist you to better understand exactly what opposing counsel is asking and will also help you prepare appropriate responses to those confusing factor questions.