Georgia Discovery Process: What to Know for Your Divorce
Beginning a divorce can be intimidating and stressful for all parties. As you start the divorce process, your divorce attorney may introduce you to the concept of “discovery” as a way to obtain pertinent information from the other party.
The discovery process enables a party to the lawsuit to request information from the other party or third parties. The party may obtain any relevant information, including financial records, child care expenses, business documentation, and possibly use it as evidence for the divorce.
What are the Different Forms of Discovery?
In Georgia, the discovery process is a formal way to obtain information for your case. Note, on occasion, your attorney may use an informal discovery method. In this post, we’ll walk through the following aspects of formal discovery:
- Requests for Document Production and Notice to Produce
- Requests for Admission
- Informal Discovery
Interrogatories serve a particular advantage because they allow you to ask the other side any question you can think of, so long as it is somewhat relevant to the case. In some Georgia counties, at the start of your case, both parties will be required to answer pre-selected questions mandated by the Court about specifics about your life and financial status. You must serve a copy of this document to the opposing party once completed.
Questions typically asked in the Interrogatories include the following:
- Background information, such as name, the names of anyone living with you, legal residence, and education.
- Employment information, including 3-year employment history, as well as a list of all of your income sources.
- Information related to children, including any relevant expenses, any special needs your child may have, and any existing child plans.
Any other information needed to support your side of the case or disprove the other party’s side of the case. For example, if adultery is suspected in a divorce case, you may want to collect evidence of that adultery. The information you are requesting may include anything from a text or email to photographic evidence. You can also collect evidence from household documents you shared previously with your spouse, including IRS returns and shared bank statements.
When Do Interrogatories Occur?
Georgia law allows interrogatories to be served upon the petitioner once the case begins; and, upon the respondent with or after service of the Complaint for Divorce. Georgia Law also limits the number of interrogatories in any case to 50 to avoid one side “papering” the case and bogging down the other side with extra work and costs. An exception to this rule is if a party can demonstrate that the complexity of a case demands more interrogatories.
Once you receive a set of interrogatories, you must respond within 30 days. As stated in various code sections of the law, you may have the right to object instead of answering a particular question. You will need the assistance of an attorney to present a crafted objection properly. You should always inform your attorney if you believe the questions are improper or outside the scope of your case. However, the divorce process does allow the parties the right to answer a broad range of questions. Further, beware, objections not made timely could be waived.
Required Documents During Divorce Discovery
Another crucial part of the discovery process is requests for document production or a notice to produce. These requests allow you to gather key evidence in various forms, including everything from documents, such as a copy of a birth certificate and land surveys, to video and audio recordings.
In Georgia, those counties with mandatory interrogatories also have mandatory requests to produce documents. Those mandatory requests for the production of documents require that you provide copies of:
- 3 years of tax returns
- Your most recent W-2
- several months of pay stubs
- Evidence of all sources of income from all sources
- Most recent statements for all financial assets
- Documents related to childcare and school
- Documents related to any business owned
The most requested document is something known as a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, called a DRFA for short. This document is a sworn financial statement. It is mandatory in most counties in Georgia, and it resembles a budget, breaking down all of the expenses related to your household.
As with interrogatories, Georgia law states that requests for documentation may be served upon the petitioner once the case begins; and, upon the respondent with or after the Complaint for Divorce service. Parties have 30 days to respond, typically, unless the defendant receives the requests along with the initial Complaint of Divorce. In this case, they would have 45 days to respond. Further, beware, objections not made timely could be waived.
Requests for Admission
Another form of discovery is a request for admission. These are questions requiring that the opposing party make factual admissions concerning the case. Requests for admission are specially crafted questions and are different from the interrogatory questions because they are not open-ended. They require an “admit” or “deny” as the answer.
As with responses to interrogatories, you do have the option of objecting to a request instead of answering it, provided you state the reason for your objection. If an objection is found to be without justification, the Court can order the party to answer and pay the other party’s attorney’s fees for having to get answers to the question. If the Court finds that a response is insufficient, it may also demand an amended response.
Georgia law states that a party in a divorce case can conduct depositions at any time during discovery. A deposition is a face-to-face interview that includes examination and cross-examination that one might see in Court.
By deposition, either party may take the other party’s testimony or a witness related to the case. The party is entitled to reasonable written notice, usually ten (10) days or more, including the time and place of the deposition. If a witness or party is unwilling to participate in a deposition voluntarily, they may be compelled by subpoena or Court order.
During the deposition, the witness gives testimony under oath, and that testimony is recorded (with video and/or audio). Attorneys for both parties can make objections during the process. If a party can prove that the deposition is being conducted in bad faith, they can petition the Court to limit or stop the deposition, too.
Any deposition transcript should be made available for review by the witness. If the witness believes there are errors in the transcript, they can make changes and sign a statement listing the mistakes and the reasons for making the edits.
In some cases, it may be necessary to collect evidence outside of what is required by the Court, and this is considered informal discovery. Typically, this is done between the attorneys by correspondence or email.
Common Divorce Discovery Questions
What Happens if Someone Fails to Respond to Discovery?
Sometimes, a party in a divorce case may refuse or fail to respond to discovery. Or, they may respond to discovery but provide insufficient answers. When this happens, your first recourse is to communicate with the opposing party or attorney to resolve the problem. If this results in no change, you request Court intervention. The Court may provide guidance, but it may also sanction the party that has failed to respond.
Under Georgia law, there is a formal process to force the other party to respond – a Motion to Compel. If the Motion to Compel is granted, the Court may also order the party who refused to properly respond to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the other party in bringing the Motion to Compel.
Do you have the Right Not to Answer?
That depends. As stated in various code sections of the law, you may have the right to object instead of producing documents or other evidence.
However, the divorce process does allow the parties the right to obtain a broad range of documents and evidence from the other side. You will need the assistance of an attorney to present an adequately crafted objection. You should always inform your attorney if you believe the question or request is improper or outside the scope of your case. There are numerous objections. Here are a few:
- Confidential Communications as defined under HIPPA
- Communications to Ministers, Priests and Rabbis
- Person Not Compellable to Testify for or Against Self
Additionally, suppose a party is asked to disclose trade secrets or information covered under a confidentiality agreement. In that case, the Court will allow reasonable restrictions to protect the integrity of the data and information, which might include a special master or in-camera inspection.
Talk to a Divorce Attorney to Learn More
Every divorce is different, so your needs during the discovery process will be unique to your case. Contact one of our Georgia divorce attorneys for a free consultation today to learn more about how discovery will work in your divorce.