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How is information shared during a legal "discovery" process?

After filing for divorce, spouses must disclose details pertaining to their financial and personal situation. This process, known as "discovery," involves exchanging information related to assets, debts and income. Tennessee law requires discovery; state courts utilize this information for an equitable division of property and to make important decisions pertaining to support obligations.

Discovery can be an informal process where spouses exchange documents pertaining to assets and debts in the presence of attorneys, but in cases of noncooperation, a number of formal and rigid procedures can be employed as tools to identify assets and debts.

One such formal method is called "document production," where both spouses are required to present all documents that are even remotely related to the divorce and subsequent property division. Additionally, this information is utilized for making important decisions pertaining to child custody, child support or alimony.

Other methods of formal discovery are using "interrogatories" and "requests for admission." Usually, interrogatories consist of questions that require a spouse to explain his or her version of facts related to divorce and at the same time provide justification for demands. Interrogatories with standardized questions are called "form" interrogatories, while those with case-specific questions are known as "special" interrogatories.

"Requests for admission" are not very common in divorce proceedings but can be effective. In this method, a spouse is asked to admit or deny specific facts related to various divorce issues. Penalties for withholding information, providing incorrect information or delaying disclosure of information can be experienced if requests are not made in good faith.

Finally, spouses can be asked to disclose information through sworn statements at the time of discovery, known as a "deposition." A deposition is often a question-and-answer session conducted by an attorney. Per law, deposition transcripts are recorded by a court reporter and generally serve two purposes: to understand what the other spouse has and to serve as a "practice trial."

During discovery, every separating spouse in Tennessee should remember that sooner or later, all facts come to light. Therefore, it is imperative for a spouse to be honest from the beginning because attempts at hiding facts related to assets and debts can have serious consequences.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Exchange of Documents and Information - 'Discovery'," Accessed on Sept. 4, 2014

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