Exchanging information between spouses is a vital part of reaching a divorce settlement or preparing for trial. The court requires that certain disclosures be made during the initial stages of a divorce, and each spouse is then afforded an opportunity to make more formal requests for evidence through a process known as discovery. However, while a spouse's right to information is generally broad, courts can place limitations on disclosure requests that only serve to burden a party or cause delays in the divorce process.
When you file for divorce, some states require you and your spouse to make some preliminary disclosures in the paperwork. These disclosures provide each side and the court with a general sense of what property, support and child related matters will need to be resolved in the divorce. Examples include the age and names of your children, a list and value of all real and personal property you own, and the nature and amount of your debts.
After the divorce has been filed, some states have mandatory financial disclosure laws that are helpful in corroborating the information supplied in your divorce paperwork. These laws require both parties to exchange detailed information regarding income and property, such as tax returns and W-2 statements, deeds to real estate, bank account records, and retirement account information. Because these disclosures may be mandatory, some states allow a party to request the information by simply providing a copy of the relevant statute to the other party.
Spouses also have the right to request any evidence that is relevant to their case or could lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. This process is known as discovery, and may involve requests to answer written or oral questions, or requests to provide a particular document or item. If a spouse refuses to comply, the requesting party can file a motion with the court to "compel" the spouse to answer or provide the evidence. Because each type of discovery must follow strict formatting rules, some spouses choose to retain the assistance of an attorney or legal document provider throughout the process.
It is not uncommon for spouses to disagree on what information each party has a right to access in a divorce. In most states, a spouse may object to a discovery request that is too broad, or on the basis that the evidence requested is unavailable, irrelevant or privileged. For instance, if your spouse formally requests that you supply notes on all conversations you had with your therapist over the last ten years, you may file an objection with the court that this information is privileged -- and potentially broad and irrelevant. The court will then review the reason for your spouse's claim and either dismiss the request or order you to disclose the information.