“Discovery” is the process that Illinois divorce litigants use to obtain information, usually financial, from the opposing party. Discovery is very useful because it permits parties to negotiate settlement while feeling comfortable that they are making informed decisions. Illinois courts generally expect people to go through discovery during litigation.
There are several discovery tools that may be used in divorce cases. The first is a financial disclosure statement. Each party completes a financial disclosure statement form in which they list their income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. It is a sworn affidavit so it is signed by the party before a notary public. It is one of the most important financial documents in a divorce case and each party should take care when completing the form to ensure it is accurate.
Another tool is the Notice to Produce. This document requires a party to tender documents to the opposing side. These documents often include bank statements, credit card statements, retirement account statements, copies of loans, copies of property titles, and other documents evidencing assets and liabilities. A Notice to Produce can request that other documents be produced as well. The typical Notice to Produce requests documents for the past three years, but this time period may change depending on each case’s details. Complying with a Notice to Produce can be time-consuming for a party because he or she often will need to contact their financial institutions for copies of statements.
A party may also serve Standard Matrimonial Interrogatories upon his or her spouse. Interrogatories are questions. The Illinois Supreme Court created Standard Matrimonial Interrogatories specifically for use in divorce cases and their purpose is to request information about the opposing party’s financial life. A party is not limited to the questions in the Standard Matrimonial Interrogatories; more questions may be asked with the court’s permission. There are other discovery tools, but those described here are most common. A good family law attorney will know which discovery tools are most appropriate for your case.
Sometimes parties resist going through discovery. A party who waives discovery assumes the risk that the other party hid or lied about the value of marital or non-marital property. It is very difficult for a party to overturn a marital settlement agreement on the basis that they did not know the true value of the property divided in the agreement when they took little or no steps to ascertain that property’s value.
For example, a husband and a wife are divorcing in Illinois. The husband’s attorneys advise him to conduct discovery. The husband tells his attorneys that he does not want to conduct discovery and that he will trust his wife’s representation that she has disclosed all of her property. After the final Judgment is entered, the husband finds out that his former wife lied to him and that she actually had two hidden bank accounts with a substantial sum of money in each account. The husband may not be able to go back to the court and ask that a portion of the bank accounts be awarded to him because he refused to conduct discovery in his divorce case when he had the chance to do so.
Some married couples or civil union couples keep some or all of their finances separate during the marriage or civil union. We have seen some people who do not know the details of their spouse’s income, savings, accounts, or other assets. Some couples have been living apart for months or even years before one of them files for divorce. When parties live separate lives, it is very difficult for a spouse to fully know the details of their spouse’s financial life. It is important that parties who have kept separate finances conduct discovery upon divorce. Parties who negotiate settlement terms without full knowledge of the other party’s assets and liabilities may be taking a large risk that they may later regret.