The Four 'W's of Interrogatory Responses
Chances are you will be served with Interrogatories during the course of your divorce proceedings. Interrogatories are a part of the Disocvery process. They are a maximum of 30 questions that must be answered in writing, under oath, and within 30 days of service. Failure to respond to Interrogatories can result in stiff sanctions.
Strategy is important, both in asking and answering Interrogatories. Remember, anything you say in your written responses can be used as evidence in court. Therefore, it is crucial that your Interrogatory responses are clear and concise. Keep in mind the Four 'W's of Interrogatories while you craft your answers.
What are you being asked to provide? Interrogatories are very specific requests. You may be asked where you lived between January 2008 and May 2009, or whether your job allowed you to work overtime in the past 12 months. In these examples, you would not want to respond with your current address, or whether you worked overtime two years ago. It is critical that you pay attention to the details in Interrogatory questions so you can prepare yourself to answer accordingly.
Why are you being asked for that information? The old saying about the devil being in the details applies here. Divorces are often amicable. But, when they aren't, every little tidbit of information may have value. When you first look at the list of Interrogatories you've been served with, ask your self why your soon-to-be-former-spouse is interested in that information. Many of the questions are standard, used to simply obtain and organize basic information like your full name, current address, and current employer. Other questions get to the core of your marital and divorce issues. If, for instance, you are asked about your involvement in your childrens' lives--a good assumption would be that a custody battle may be brewing. If you are being asked about your ability to earn income, there may be a discussion about spousal support on the horizon.
What information must you share? In general, you are required to respond to every reasonable question. Questions may not be considered reasonable if they are overly broad in nature, or have no reasonable relation to the divorce proceedings. If a question is reasonable, you must answer it to your best ability. For example, if an Interrogatory asks you to list every item of property in which you have interest, how it is titled, the value, and the date you acquired each listed item, you need to respond with a detailed list of everything of value that you own--not just your car and house. Remember, Discovery is ongoing so you have an obligation to update any of your responses as the information contained within changes.
What information should you keep to yourself? Strategy is the name of the game. There is certain information that you may be asked to provide--like evidence of an affair--which you have a legal right not to respond to. It can be tricky because there may be parts of single question that a Judge would require you to answer, and other parts of that same question that you would not be required to answer. If you really feel like a question asks for too much or incriminating information, an attorney can help you craft a response that meets the legal requirements for responding to Interrogatories without giving away too much information.
This is the second in an ongoing series about Discovery. For the next few weeks, we will go more in-depth about this very important process.