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There are many legal tools that a divorce attorney can use during a family court case. Some of those tools are available through the courts, such as a subpoena. If necessary, your attorney can use a subpoena to compel a variety of actions necessary to protect a client or build a stronger case.





What is a Subpoena?





A subpoena is a legal document issued by the court or under the authority of a court. It compels a party to take a specific action, such as appearing in court or presenting documents. Subpoenas can be used in any family court matter, including divorces, child custody cases, property division disputes, and spousal support cases.





How Can a Family Lawyer Use Subpoenas to Protect Their Clients?





Both parties in a family law case can use subpoenas. A subpoena can be issued to the opposing party or other parties who might have evidence relevant to the matter before the court. Even if a party does not want to provide information relevant to a case, the subpoena forces the person to comply. 





If a party ignores a subpoena, the party could face sanctions from the family law court. A judge could issue a warrant to have the person appear in court to explain why the person is ignoring a subpoena. If the person continues to refuse to comply with the subpoena without a legal reason, the judge could put the person in jail and/or impose fines.





If you believe that you have a valid objection to the subpoena, talk with a lawyer immediately. Even though the subpoena may be invalid, you cannot ignore the subpoena. You must file a response with the court asking for a ruling.





Compelling a Person to Appear 





A common use of a subpoena in a family court case is to compel a person to appear to provide testimony or information. A reluctant witness could be forced to appear in court to provide testimony. A subpoena may also be used to compel a person to appear for a deposition.





Witnesses may not want to “take sides” in a divorce or a child custody action. However, if a person has information that can help your case, you may have no choice but to subpoena that person to appear in court. It might be necessary to protect your children if your spouse has a drug habit or other problem that could put your children in danger if your spouse were to receive joint custody. 





Compelling the Production of Documents





A subpoena may also be used to compel the production of documents. A person or party must turn over the documents listed in the subpoena for inspection and copying. In most cases, you are responsible for paying reasonable fees to obtain copies of the documents.





Subpoenas to compel documents can be very useful in a variety of cases. For example, if you believe your spouse is concealing property to avoid community property laws, you may use a subpoena to obtain copies of records that prove your spouse owns the assets.





You may also use a subpoena to obtain accurate payroll records to establish income for a child support or spousal support case. Without subpoenas to compel documents, a spouse could conceal a variety of information that could negatively affect the outcome of a case. 





Compelling Appearance and Documents





A subpoena may also be used to compel both the appearance of a person and the presentation of documents. These subpoenas are often used when you want to obtain documents, but you also want the person providing the documents to offer explanations and testimony regarding the documents.





For example, if you subpoena investment records to prove that your spouse is hiding accounts, you may also want an employee of the brokerage company to appear in court to explain the documents. The employee can quickly point to the accounts in questions and testify as to the value of those accounts. 





What Should I Do if I am Subpoenaed? 





If you receive a subpoena from a family law court, do not ignore the subpoena. If you are a party to the action, notify your family law attorney immediately. If you are not a party to the action, you may want to consult an attorney if you have any questions.





Most companies have legal departments that handle subpoenas. Contact the legal department immediately so that the legal department can review the subpoena and respond to the subpoena, if necessary.





If you are a medical professional, therapist, or other professional, you are probably already familiar with family court subpoenas. However, if you are not and you are worried about confidentiality protections, contact your lawyer immediately for advice. 


Puja Sachdev

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