Last Updated on September 28, 2023 by Turner Thornton
Understanding Initial Disclosures in Texas Family Law Cases
Going through a Texas family court case can be an extremely stressful time – and also a seemingly invasive process. Under Texas law, the parties involved in a divorce or other family law case are required to exchange certain documents or information – which are called “initial disclosures” and are often personal.
Initial disclosures in Texas family law cases are part of the discovery process and play a crucial role in ensuring fair and transparent proceedings. The goal is to prevent surprises later in the legal process and it also helps both parties and their attorneys prepare for negotiations, mediation, or trial.
In this article, the experienced attorneys at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group explain initial disclosures in Texas family law cases and answer some frequently asked questions about this process. But first, please watch this informative video by Fort Worth family law attorney Laura Richardson.
Initial Disclosures in Texas Family Law Cases
Initial disclosures in Texas family law cases are a mandatory exchange of certain information between spouses or parties. Their primary purpose is to provide both parties with a clear understanding of each other’s wishes, as well as income, assets, liabilities, expenses, and health coverage to help avoid surprises as the case progresses.
These disclosures help facilitate negotiations, property division, spousal support, and decisions regarding child custody, visitation, and support. Initial disclosures are required under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules ensure that each party has access to relevant information, enabling them to make informed decisions and negotiate settlements and agreements efficiently and effectively.
Initial disclosures weren’t always “required.” But that changed on Jan. 1, 2021, when Texas lawmakers modified Rule 194 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which includes Texas family law. The title of the rule was changed from “Requests” for Disclosure to “Required” Disclosures. In doing so, it required all parties in suits filed after Jan. 1, 2021, to provide specific information and documents to the other parties during the outset of a civil case.
Cases filed before January 1, 2021, are governed by the old rule, which only requires information to be provided if properly requested in writing by another party.
Required Initial Disclosures in Texas Family Law Cases
The initial disclosures in Texas family law cases that are required are as follows:
- Names of the parties to the lawsuit (husband and wife or mother and father if the parties are unmarried);
- The name, address, and telephone number of any potential parties who might have a right to participate in the lawsuit, such as grandparents.
- The legal theories and, in general, the factual bases of the responding party’s claims or defenses (our attorneys will prepare this).
- The amount and method of calculating support or damages (our attorneys will prepare this).
- The name, address, and telephone number of persons with knowledge of relevant facts and a brief statement of each identified person’s connection to the case (people with knowledge of anything at an issue in the case)
- Copies — or a description by category and location—of all documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things that the responding party has in its possession, custody, or control and may use to support its claims or defenses unless the use would be solely for impeachment;
- Settlement agreements (while these may not be admissible at trial, they are still discoverable);
- Witness statements by any persons with knowledge of relevant facts;
In suits for divorce, annulment, or to declare a marriage void, parties must, without awaiting a discovery request, provide the following for the past two years or since the date of marriage, whichever is less:
- Deed and lien information on any real property owned and all lease information on any real property leased;
- Statements for any pension plan, retirement plan, profit-sharing plan, employee benefit plan, and individual retirement plan;
- Statements or policies for each current insurance policy, including life, casualty, liability, and health; and
- Statements pertaining to any account at a financial institution, including banks, savings and loan institutions, credit unions, or brokerage firms.
Suits in which child or spousal support is at issue:
- Information regarding all policies, statements, and the summary description of benefits for any medical and health insurance coverage that is or would be available for the child or the spouse;
- Income tax returns for the previous two years or, if no return has been filed, a Form W-2, Form 1099, and Schedule K-1 for such years, and
- The two most recent payroll check stubs.
How Much Time Do I Have to Send Initial Disclosures in Texas Family Law Cases?
Initial disclosures must be sent to the opposing party within 30 days of the respondent filing an answer or a waiver of service. These disclosures must be in writing and should be served in the manner prescribed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
What is Required in Initial Disclosures in Texas Divorce Cases?
Initial disclosures in Texas divorce cases typically include:
- All deed and lien information for any real property owned or leased by the parties
- Bank statements
- Retirement plans
- Insurance policies, including health or life insurance
If child support or spousal support is at issue, you will also be required to turn over:
- Health insurance policies for your spouse and children
- Tax returns for the two previous years
- Two most recent payroll stubs
All family law cases, regardless of the issues, also require the following information:
- Evidence items, including pictures and text messages
- Witness information and contact information
Failure to provide mandatory disclosures can lead to sanctions and penalties, including fines and the possibility of the court ruling unfavorably on certain issues.
Discovery Process in Divorce or Family Law
In Texas family law, initial disclosures are a form of discovery and are critical components of the pretrial procedure. Here’s a look at discovery in a broader sense and how initial disclosures and discovery are different.
- Initial Disclosures: This process typically takes place at the outset of a case. It’s a required exchange of basic information that each party needs to know about the other party’s case. Initial disclosures may include information about each party’s income, assets, liabilities, and expenses, identification of individuals with relevant information, and a copy or a description of relevant documents and evidence. The goal is to provide a basic factual framework for the case and to prevent surprises during the trial.
- Discovery: Discovery is a broader and more detailed procedure that follows the initial disclosures. The purpose of discovery is to allow both parties to gather information from each other and from third parties to prepare for trial. Discovery methods can include interrogatories (written questions that the other party must answer), requests for production (asking the other party to provide certain documents or evidence), requests for admissions (asking the other party to admit or deny certain facts), and depositions (formal, in-person interviews conducted under oath). Discovery allows each side to find out what evidence the other side has and to narrow the issues to be tried.
While initial disclosures are somewhat limited in scope, discovery can be more expansive. There are rules to prevent abuse of the discovery process, such as unreasonable, burdensome, or invasive requests, and a family law attorney can provide guidance and assistance in navigating both the initial disclosure and discovery processes.
Failing to Provide Initial Disclosures
The initial disclosure process is governed by rules and procedures laid out in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Failing to provide initial disclosures or providing incomplete or inaccurate information, can lead to penalties, including potentially being barred from using certain information or witnesses at trial. For this reason, it’s critical to have an experienced lawyer help navigate this process.
The Role a Divorce/Family Law Attorney Plays in Initial Disclosures
Family law attorneys play an essential role in initial disclosures during a family law case in Texas. Their responsibilities include:
Assistance with Preparation
Attorneys help clients understand what they need to disclose and assist in preparing the necessary documents. This may involve gathering financial documents, identifying relevant parties, and organizing information in a clear and accessible manner.
The rules governing initial disclosures are detailed and can be complex. Attorneys are responsible for ensuring that their clients comply with these rules to avoid potential penalties. They will make sure that all required information is disclosed, and that it is disclosed in the correct manner and within the specified timelines.
Reviewing Opposing Party’s Disclosure
Once the opposing party provides their initial disclosures, the attorney will review them carefully. They will identify any potential issues, such as incomplete or inaccurate information, and take appropriate steps to address these issues.
Protecting Client’s Interests
Attorneys are responsible for safeguarding their client’s interests throughout the disclosure process. They might challenge the disclosure if it’s improperly broad, burdensome, or otherwise not in line with the rules of procedure.
After reviewing the initial disclosures from both parties, attorneys can help plan the next steps in the case. The disclosed information can inform strategies for negotiation, mediation, or trial.
Education and Advice
Family law attorneys also play a crucial role in educating clients about the process and advising them on the best course of action based on the disclosed information.
By working with experienced Fort Worth family law and divorce attorneys, you can ensure that you are well-prepared and knowledgeable about the process. Mistakes can be costly, so it’s best to have an experienced attorney handle initial disclosures.
How Varghese Summersett Family Law Group Can Help
Our skilled divorce attorneys and their seasoned paralegals play a critical role in helping navigate the initial disclosure process. They will assist you in gathering and organizing the necessary information, ensuring that you comply with Texas law, and protect your rights.
Our team is committed to providing personalized, compassionate representation to help you achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family. Call us today at 817-900-3220 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
FAQs: Initial Disclosures in Texas Family Law Cases
Initial disclosures are documents that must be exchanged between spouses early in the divorce process, providing relevant information about assets, liabilities, income, and other financial matters. These disclosures help facilitate negotiations and decision-making during the divorce.
In Texas family law cases, initial disclosures should be exchanged within 30 days after the respondent’s answer or appearance in the case, whichever occurs first.
Initial disclosures in Texas family cases typically include information about the parties’ assets, liabilities, income, expenses, and other financial matters. This information helps both parties understand their financial situation and make informed decisions during the divorce process.
To send initial disclosures in Texas family cases, you should gather all the necessary documents, complete the required forms, and provide copies to your spouse or their attorney. You may also need to file a certificate of service with the court, stating that you have provided the initial disclosures to the other party.
If a spouse fails to provide initial disclosures in a Texas divorce case, the court may impose sanctions, including fines, attorney’s fees, and even dismissal of the case. It is essential to comply with the initial disclosure requirements to avoid potential penalties.
Yes, after the initial disclosures, you may request additional information through discovery, such as interrogatories, requests for production, and depositions. This process helps you gather more information and evidence to support your case.
Initial disclosures in Texas divorce cases are generally not confidential. They are part of the public record, and anyone can access them. However, certain sensitive information, like Social Security numbers and bank account numbers, can be redacted to protect your privacy.
Yes, you can amend your initial disclosures in a Texas divorce case if you discover new information or realize that the initial disclosures were incomplete or inaccurate. You should notify the other party and the court promptly if you need to make any changes to your initial disclosures.