Divorce is a difficult process both emotionally and throughout each of the necessary steps required by law to end a marriage in California. California’s no-fault divorce state means either spouse may file for divorce simply under the grounds of irreconcilable differences, so filing is a relatively simple matter; however, it’s also a 50/50 divorce state for separation of marital property, including all debts and assets accumulated during the marriage. This requires both parties to fully disclose all income, property, bank accounts, investment accounts, and valuable possessions.

One of the most important steps in a California divorce is discovery. During discovery, both spouses must disclose their full financial assets and debts to the other spouse’s attorney upon request. This begins the process of either negotiating a settlement agreement before the divorce hearing or allowing a judge to decide your asset division at the hearing. Discovery also uncovers both spouses’ desired outcomes for child custody and spousal support.

When is the Discovery Period in a California Divorce?

The fact-finding process of discovery in a divorce takes place during the period after one party files for divorce and before the trial date. This period of compelled disclosure allows each party in the divorce to request documents from the other. By 60 days before the trial, all document requests must be completed by both parties because each request allows 30 days for the other party’s sworn response, and the discovery period ends 30 days before the trial. If a spouse is in another state, they have 35 days to submit their response under oath.

How Does the Discovery Process Work?

In order to reach a settlement agreement, both parties need answers to important questions that arise during the 50/50 division of marital assets. Both sides in a divorce use the discovery period to request documents so they can make informed decisions. During discovery, you’ll learn your spouse’s position on all relevant issues and what facts or witness testimony they have available to support their side. For example, you might disagree with your spouse that an asset they claim as community property is actually community property because it’s something you purchased before you were married.

Your Los Angeles divorce lawyer demands evidence from your spouse that this is community property. In response, your spouse can present bank records and receipts showing that he or she invested in the property, made improvements, or added funds to an account, making it community property.

During discovery, you can also serve requests for documents to third parties, for instance to your spouse’s employer, and they are compelled to respond. The response includes an oath the information provided in the response is true and accurate.

By putting all cards on the table, it may be possible to reach a settlement before the trial so an impartial judge doesn’t have to decide for you.

Form Interrogatories and Other Documents During Divorce Discovery

During the discovery period, you and your spouse will serve and receive form interrogatories. These forms contain questions that must be answered under oath and are used to officially request documents. Once served, each party has 30 days to respond to the questions and produce the requested documents.

Besides form interrogatories, the discovery period of a divorce may include other documents such as subpoenas for records from third parties and notices to produce documents for inspection and photocopy. In some cases, a spouse’s attorney might request a deposition, which is an under-oath question-and-answer session conducted in an attorney’s office and then recorded into a transcript in written form. There may also be reports presented by financial expert witnesses during the discovery period.

Once discovery is complete, the best case scenario is reaching a mutually agreed-upon settlement out of court that a judge will simply sign. However, if both parties can’t agree to a fair settlement, both sides present arguments in court and a judge makes the final decision on the division of all assets and debts.