“Discovery” in the context of litigation is simply a means of obtaining information from the opposing party, or a third party, for purposes of the litigation. A brief explanation of the most frequently used discovery tools follows:
Interrogatories: Interrogatories are written questions sent to the opposing party. Each interrogatory must be answered in writing, under oath, within 30 days, absent an extension. Each party is limited to 40 interrogatories. Interrogatories are most effective for acquiring narrowly tailored information, to include things like the locations of financial accounts and the basic identification of other assets and debts.
Request for Documents: Any party may serve on any other party a request to inspect and copy any documents within the control of the party. The request must be satisfied within 30 days. Document production is often the most critical component in properly identifying and confirming the information relating to the litigation.
Subpoenas: Subpoenas may be used to obtain documents from a third party, including corporations, or to require the taking of oral testimony from non-party witnesses at a deposition.
Request for Admissions: A party may serve upon any other party a written request that the other party admit the truth of any relevant matters. The admissions (or denials, as applicable) must be made, in writing and under oath, within 30 days. Such requests are frequently used to settle factual issues that are not the subject of reasonable dispute, thereby avoiding the need to prove those facts in the divorce case.
Depositions: The attorneys involved in a case have the right to take oral depositions. Depositions are designed to give the parties an opportunity to see how a person will testify to particular matters and observe his or her demeanor. Short of proceeding to trial, it is the only opportunity that an attorney representing one party has to question the opposing party without many restrictions. Depositions are taken under oath, just as in a courtroom in front of a judge, and the penalty for perjury is the same in a deposition as it is in a courtroom. Depositions are routinely used to find out information, and to verify previously obtained information. Depositions are generally the most expensive form of discovery.
Most of the information obtained during discovery can be used during trial. It is important that as a litigant you review all documents that you provide during discovery, the opposing party produces during discovery, or that are produced through a third party.