What is Discovery and why should I hire an attorney to help me with it?

After a divorce or custody complaint is filed, but prior to a trial, parties in a lawsuit often participate in the process of discovery.

Discovery is usually initiated with the filing of a set of written questions called interrogatories, which must be answered under oath, and a Request for Production of Documents, which requires the other party to provide specific documents or other items. The responses to interrogatories and requests for production must be produced within 30 days, unless the court grants an extension. We also use Requests for Admission and Depositions to discover more information about our cases.


Interrogatories are really just questions used to get information from the other side, but the other side is required to provide answers under oath. These answers are important because they can be admitted as evidence and, if you can prove the other side lied, the court can hold them responsible.

Some interrogatories are very specific, such as “Last year, how many days of parenting time did you spend with your child?”  Or they can be very broad and descriptive, such as “Describe any and all efforts you have made to ease your child’s transition into living in your home.” You can probably see how having an attorney help you to craft answers to either question might be helpful.


Depositions are kind of like baby trials before the big day but without the judge. At a deposition, witnesses are sworn in and then an attorney asks the witness questions which the witness, again, answers under oath. A court reporter will be present to type up the questions and that transcript he or she creates can be used at trial. Depositions are not as popular as they once were, except in the cases of expert witnesses. Depositions are, often, used in a strategic way to get the other side to show their hand or to see how good or poor an adverse witness will be.  Having an attorney present on your behalf will help keep you aware of your rights and the boundaries placed on the opposing party.

Requests for Admissions

Requests for Admission are, simply, fact statements that the other side asks you to admit or deny in a sworn response. Once a party is served with RFAs, they only have 30 days to respond.  If that party does not respond, a court can rule that the statements within the RFAs are deemed to be facts – even if they are verifiably false!  Those statements can then be used against a party at trial!  Or – what sometimes happens – is a party will lie in response to RFAs and when it is proven that the party lied, the offending party may end up owing legal fees to the other side.  Having an attorney on your side will help keep that 30-day deadline in sight and prevent you from misstating the facts.

This isn’t the only way to gather information, though.

In the collaborative divorce process and, especially, in cases where animosity and distrust have not overtaken the parties, parties and attorneys frequently conduct what’s called informal discovery.  This is the agreed passing back and forth of bank statements, report cards, insurance policies, and whatever else is needed to come to a full disclosure and a knowing educated settlement in the case.

Obviously, in cases with a lot of distrust or a serious lack of cooperation, formal discovery is probably the only way to go.  If that is true in your case or if you have been served with a discovery request, I strongly suggest you seek the advice of an attorney – even if you are otherwise pro se.  In Tennessee, we are permitted to appear for the limited purpose of helping with discovery and it may very well be worth the cost.

For help with your discovery, give Jennifer a call or text at (865) 404-8226 today!