Request for Production of Documents in Divorce
By Beverly Bird
Legal professionals rarely take anyone’s word for something. The nature of law is providing conclusive proof that what you’re saying is true. If your spouse or her attorney tell you that her IRA is worth $50,000, you’ll want to see her most recent statement to back up her assertion. This is where a request for production of documents comes in. It’s one of several methods of discovery (process of obtaining evidence) in a divorce case designed to ascertain exactly what each spouse owns and how much it is worth.
Although laws and procedures vary from state to state, a request for production of documents is almost always in written form. It’s a legal document, but you generally don’t have to file it with the court. Instead, you serve it on your spouse or her attorney. It should state how much time your spouse has to provide the documents you’re requesting. Depending on your state’s laws, this could be anywhere from 30 to 90 days. The document then lists the paperwork you’re asking your spouse to produce. Cases vary as will the request but you are ultimately looking for any relevant material.
A request for production of documents has few limitations in most states. Generally, you can ask for anything that relates to your marriage or issues you might end up going to trial over, such as custody or alimony. This can cover a wide range; not much is off limits, but some states’ laws might include a few restrictions. Most states do not confine you to issuing only one request for documents throughout your entire divorce case. As things come up, you may want to serve another request on your spouse to seek a particular document that relates to a pivotal issue. Discovery may also be used after divorce for ongoing issues like alimony and child support.
Usually, a request for production of documents relates to financial issues. You can ask for bank statements, credit card statements, investment statements, pay stubs or pay records, tax returns or supporting documentation for any asset. If issues regarding custody are in dispute, you might want to request items that can prove your spouse’s unfitness as a parent, such as medical records or criminal records. After you have the proof of the documents, the laws in most states permit you to use them as exhibits for the judge or jury if you can’t reach a settlement with your spouse and your case goes to trial.
Liability to Respond
Although the law politely couches this document as a “request,” that’s a bit of a misnomer. If you serve one on your spouse, she’s under a legal obligation to respond to it. That response might take the form of petitioning the court for permission to withhold a document because she doesn’t think it is relevant, but in most states, she must either provide you with what you’re asking for or receive court permission to deny your request. By simply doing nothing and ignoring it, she can be held in contempt of court.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.