Family law matters that go to trial follow a similar process as other lawsuits. Most cases begin when a party files a petition or complaint in court and serves it on the opposing party. The opposing party files an answer or another response to the allegations.

Because of the nature of family law matters, there could be several emergency motions that address temporary issues such as child custody, spousal support, and child support. The court may address which party may remain in the marital home pending a final order regarding property division. 

The next phase of the case is the discovery phase. During the discovery phase, each party has the opportunity to use one or more discovery methods to obtain additional information and evidence they can use during the trial. A common discovery tool is interrogatories.

What Are Family Law Interrogatories?

An interrogatory is a list of questions sent from one party in a civil law matter to the opposing party. The party receiving the interrogatories must answer the questions under oath within a specific timeframe, usually 30 or 35 days.

Parties might use interrogatories for cases involving divorce, child custody, legal separation, property division, spousal support, and other family law matters. 

California has two types of interrogatories in family law cases. The first set of family law interrogatories are Form Interrogatories. These interrogatories are designed to exchange relevant information between the parties without unreasonable expense to either party. 

Special Interrogatories are questions that are not included in the court’s Form Interrogatories. Generally, California law limits parties to 35 special interrogatories and the questions on the Form Interrogatories. However, there could be exceptions to that rule.

Interrogatories are an inexpensive form of discovery for family law cases. However, you cannot “follow up” with other questions based on the answers you receive like you could in a deposition.

Are There Other Forms of Discover in Family Law Cases?

Yes, there are other forms of discovery available in family law cases. For example, an attorney may schedule a deposition of the other party, witnesses, or experts. 

A deposition is a series of questions answered under oath. A court reporter transcribes the deposition to create an official record that the parties can use to prepare for trial. Because the attorney receives immediate responses to questions, it is easy to follow up on those responses with additional questions.

The parties may also send each other requests for the production of documents. Requests to produce ask for copies of specific documents relevant to the case. The responding party must provide the requested documents or allow the party to copy the documents at a specified time and place. 

Request for admissions can also be very helpful in a family law case. This discovery tool is a list of statements to which the responding party must admit or deny. The party may also reply that they do not have enough information to admit or deny the statement. Requests for admissions can narrow the issues at trial.

Are Discovery Tools Used in Each Family Law Case?

No, your family law matter may not require the use of family law interrogatories or other forms of discovery. For example, a simple uncontested divorce or annulment may not require family law interrogatories. In these cases, the parties agree to the terms of the divorce or annulment, so there is no need to “discover” evidence that can be used at trial. 

Discovery methods are usually reserved for divorce cases and family law matters that are contested. The parties may be arguing over property division, custody, or support payments. They may allege various acts of wrongdoing by the other party or that a parent is unfit.

In these types of family law cases, the parties need to obtain information and evidence they can use to support their allegations at trial. Discovery allows them to seek the evidence they need in an orderly, controlled manner.

Do You Need an Attorney for Your Family Court Case?

It is generally wise to seek legal counsel even if you and your spouse agree to the divorce terms. An attorney understands the process and can help you ensure that your divorce proceeding or other family law matter proceeds as quickly as possible without mistakes. 

Also, having an attorney means that you have someone looking out for your best interest. Your spouse may agree now, but that could change at any moment. You want to be ahead of the situation should problems arise.