Last Updated on September 28, 2023 by Benson Varghese
Forms of Discovery in Family Law Cases
“Discovery” is a legal term that refers to the formal process by which parties in a lawsuit exchange information and evidence relevant to the case. In the context of Texas family law cases, discovery is used to gather information about a wide variety of issues such as income, property, children, debts, and any other issues relevant to the case. In this article, we will cover the forms of discovery in family law and divorce cases in Texas.
The purpose of family law discovery is to prevent “trial by ambush,” where one side doesn’t learn about the other side’s evidence or arguments until the trial, which can prevent a fair hearing. Discovery ensures both parties have access to the same information, which can promote settlement or help prepare for trial.
Discovery in Texas family law cases can be complex, time-consuming, and costly. The rules are strict and there can be serious consequences for failing to comply, so it’s important to have legal counsel guide you through it.
In this article, we explain discovery in Texas family law cases, the governing rules, and the overall process, but first please take a moment to watch this video by experienced family law attorney Turner Thornton.
Discovery Documents in Texas Family Law
During the discovery process in Texas family law cases, various types of documents are exchanged between parties to gather relevant information and evidence. At a minimum, both parties should be prepared to gather and receive:
- Financial Records
- Real Estate Documents
- Employment Records
- Medical Records
- School records
- Communication Records (emails, texts, etc.)
Forms of Discovery in Family Law Cases
In any legal proceeding, having comprehensive, accurate information is paramount to building a successful case. In Texas, like in most jurisdictions, the discovery process plays an essential role in this, allowing the parties involved to gather crucial evidence and information before trial.
The various methods of discovery—interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions, depositions, subpoenas, and disclosures—each offer unique opportunities to acquire the necessary details that will shape the course of the proceedings. From uncovering financial records in a contentious divorce to obtaining expert witness testimonies in a child custody case, the strategic use of these discovery tools can have a significant impact on the outcome of your Texas family law case.
Here’s an overview of the methods used to obtain various types of discovery in Texas family law case:
These are written questions posed by one party to another, requiring the receiving party to provide written answers under oath. Interrogatories often cover various topics. Common questions in family law interrogatories may include:
- Information about income and employment
- Details about property and debts
- Questions about child custody and visitation
- Information about marital misconduct or fault grounds
Requests for Production
These are formal requests for the other party to produce specific documents or tangible items related to the case. Examples include bank statements, tax returns, real estate documents, emails, text messages, photographs, and other relevant evidence.
Requests for Admissions
Requests for admissions are a set of written statements served by one party to another, asking the receiving party to admit or deny the truth of each statement. They can be used to establish undisputed facts or narrow the issues for trial. One party may request the other to admit or deny specific facts or the authenticity of documents. These admissions can help narrow the scope of disputed issues and establish undisputed facts for the case.
Requests for Disclosure
These requests require the other party to disclose basic information about their case, such as legal theories, potential witnesses, expert witnesses, and any existing insurance policies. Disclosures often include information about witnesses, a list of all persons with knowledge of relevant facts, a list of potential expert witnesses, and a summary of the expert witnesses’ opinions, among other things.
Depositions involve the oral testimony of a party or witness, given under oath and recorded by a court reporter. Depositions can be used to gather additional information and evaluate the credibility of witnesses before trial. The resulting transcript is a written record of the deposition.
Sworn Inventories and Appraisements
In divorce cases, both parties are often required to submit a detailed list of all their assets and liabilities, along with their respective values. These inventories help in the division of the marital estate.
A subpoena is a legal order for a person to appear at a specified time and place to testify or produce documents. Subpoenas can be used to obtain information from non-party witnesses, such as employers, financial institutions, or other relevant third parties.
These are some of the main types of methods used during the discovery process in Texas family law cases. Our experienced family law attorneys can help guide you through the process, ensuring you are gathering and presenting the necessary information in an effective and efficient manner.
Discovery Rules in Texas Family Law Cases
Discovery in Texas family court is governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules set forth the procedures and guidelines that must be followed during the discovery process. The Texas Supreme Court added new rules in 2021 for mandatory initial disclosures in family law cases, created to supply each party with the basic information about the other’s case. This information must be exchanged within 45 days of the case opening, or the party risks sanctions. The initial disclosure information includes the following:
- Names of everyone with knowledge of the facts in the case;
- Descriptions of any relevant documents or electronic data; and
- Identifying any expert witnesses that could be asked to testify
Texas Discovery Process in Family Law
The discovery process in Texas family law cases typically follows these steps:
- Initial disclosures: Both parties exchange basic information and documents relevant to their case.
- Written discovery: Parties may serve interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions to gather more detailed information.
- Depositions: Parties may take oral testimony from witnesses and the other party under oath.
- Subpoenas: Parties may request documents or testimony from third parties through subpoenas.
- Expert discovery: If experts are involved, their reports and depositions may be taken.
What are Depositions in Family Law Cases?
A deposition is an oral testimony given by a witness or a party under oath outside the courtroom. It allows attorneys to gather information, assess a witness’s credibility, and prepare for trial. To prepare for a deposition, it’s essential to:
- Review relevant documents
- Discuss your testimony with your attorney
- Be honest and consistent in your answers
- Stay calm and composed
What is a Subpoena in Texas Family Court?
A subpoena is a legal document that commands a person to produce documents or testify in a case. It can be used to obtain information from third parties, such as employers, banks, or medical providers, that may be relevant to the case.
Timeline for Discovery in Texas Family Court
The timeline for discovery in Texas family court varies depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s scheduling. Generally, the discovery period begins when the case is filed and ends shortly before trial. Factors that may affect the timeline include:
- The number of issues in dispute
- The level of cooperation between the parties
- The availability of witnesses and experts
Objections and Responses to Discovery
During the discovery process, parties may raise objections to discovery requests if they believe the request is inappropriate, overly broad, or burdensome. Common objections include:
- Irrelevant information
- Privileged information
- Overly broad or unduly burdensome requests
- Requests for information that is already in the possession of the requesting party
When a party raises an objection, the other party may negotiate to narrow the scope of the request or file a motion to compel the production of the requested information. The court will then decide whether the objection is valid and whether the requested information must be provided.
Protective Orders in Texas Family Court
In some cases, a party may seek a protective order to prevent the disclosure of sensitive or confidential information. A protective order can be requested if the party believes that the disclosure of specific information may cause harm, undue burden, or harassment. The court will weigh the interests of both parties and determine whether to grant the protective order.
Importance of Compliance with Discovery Rules
Complying with discovery rules and deadlines is essential to ensure a fair legal process. Failure to comply with discovery requests can lead to severe consequences, including:
- Sanctions imposed by the court
- Adverse inferences or findings against the non-compliant party
- Limitations on presenting evidence at trial
Facing a Texas Divorce or Family Law Case? Call us.
The attorneys at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group have vast experience and are highly skilled at all aspects of discovery in Texas family law cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, property division, adoption, paternity, and post-divorce modifications. We work diligently to gather and analyze all necessary information to help our clients make informed decisions and build the strongest possible case.
The discovery process in Texas family court plays a critical role in ensuring that both parties have the necessary information to present their case effectively. Understanding discovery in Texas family law and the different types of discovery documents, the governing rules, and the overall process is crucial for navigating family law cases in Texas.
The attorneys at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group are highly experienced with the discovery process and can ensure your rights and interests are protected every step of the way. To schedule a consultation, call us at 817-900-3220 or contact us online.
FAQ: Understanding the Discovery Process in Texas Family Law Cases
The discovery process in Texas family law allows both parties to gather the necessary information and evidence to present their case effectively. It ensures a fair and transparent legal process by providing access to essential documents and information relevant to the case.
The main types of discovery requests and methods in Texas family law cases include interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admissions, and depositions. These methods help parties obtain information, documents, and statements relevant to their case.
Informal discovery involves the voluntary exchange of information between parties without court intervention, while formal discovery follows specific rules and procedures set by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Formal discovery methods are enforceable by the court and require adherence to deadlines and other regulations.
Failure to comply with discovery requests can lead to severe consequences, including sanctions imposed by the court, adverse inferences or findings against the non-compliant party, and limitations on presenting evidence at trial.
A protective order is a court order that prevents the disclosure of sensitive or confidential information during the discovery process. A party may seek a protective order if they believe that the disclosure of specific information may cause harm, undue burden, or harassment.
Yes, a party can object to a discovery request if they believe the request is inappropriate, overly broad, or burdensome. The court will then decide whether the objection is valid and whether the requested information must be provided.
A knowledgeable family law attorney can guide you through the discovery process, ensure compliance with the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and protect your rights and interests during the exchange of information.
The court oversees the discovery process in Texas family law cases, ensuring that both parties adhere to the rules and deadlines. The court may also resolve disputes related to discovery requests, objections, and protective orders.