By Nathan A. Hacker
Interrogatories are the request for information in an open-ended format and will cover a wide range of topics, but are primarily centered on two main areas: finances and children.
Here are sample interrogatories you will face related to your children and on financial topics.
As every divorce involves finances of some sort I will address those interrogatories first. Here is a sample interrogatory on a financial topic:
Please state all credit card(s) and account(s) not secured by real or other property that are revolving debt accounts that you currently possess or possessed within the year prior to the date of filing of your divorce. For each card, specifically state:
a) The issuing agency, bank, or retail outlet
b) The type of card or account (i.e. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc…)
c) The name(s) on the account and account number
d) The authorized users of the account
e) The balance as of the time of filing for dissolution
f) The current balance
g) The minimum payment on any balance
h) The date the account was opened
There is no set answer for these questions, yet there is specific information that is sought by such a question. As was suggested in the article “What Is Discovery?”, saving these statements electronically or in paper form will ease your answering of these questions saving you time, money, and frustration.
It is likely you will receive at least one interrogatory similar to the one above (which admittedly is very general) on the following topics: real estate, mortgages, retirements, pensions, stock options, SEPs, inheritances, pay checks, royalties, rents, distributions, profit sharing plan, savings accounts, checking accounts, safe deposit boxes, money markets, 401ks, IRA’s, foreign investments, stocks, bonds, securities, insurance policies, demand notes, vehicles, liens, loans, encumbrances, debts, personal property, education, and criminal offenses.
While I doubt that many of you have one of each of these things, the ones that you do have, you will likely have statements. Your divorce lawyer will be able to tell you which of these can be divided and which may be taken out of the marital estate.
Her divorce attorney will likely have the same set of answers for her as well. The point being that each side will have the opportunity to look at the entire picture financially.
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How Interrogatories Can Help You
While compiling this information, keep in mind that it is not just useful for the other party. Your attorney should be using this to help you formulate an offer for settlement, evaluating their offer for settlement, negotiating during a mediation or settlement conference, and lastly arguing at trial.
If your attorney has a different picture of the estate than the opposing counsel that could lead to a trial by surprise. If your attorney doesn’t have a complete picture of the estate, it will lead to disaster.
Another type of interrogatory that many of you will face is the set of interrogatories related to your children. If you have children, you will understand the finances of the case are of secondary concern when it comes to the well-being of your children.
There will probably be a dispute over who should have child custody, what the parenting time or visitation rules will be, whether or not there should there be any child support, alimony, rehabilitative maintenance, etc.
Interrogatories along these lines tend be more of a creative writing assignment and will take the following form:
Do you and your spouse have any major disagreements concerning the children’s education, religious upbringing, discipline, health care needs and/or extracurricular activities and, if so please state in detail the nature of each disagreement and each party’s position as you see it?
There are at least two issues with this question as it is written that will be addressed shortly. There is an objection and it is a trap. See if you spot it.
First, however, I want to discuss answering the question. If there are disagreements you should discuss them with your attorney so that they can assist you in formulating a response that advocates for you.
If, for example, you are arguing over which school your child should attend, do not reply “Junior should go to my elementary school and she wants him to go to the expensive private school so that she can bilk me out of the tuition. I turned out fine with a public school education, so will my son.”
Instead it is better not to volunteer the extra information simply state “Junior’s mother and I disagree on where he should attend school. I believe he should attend the public school, she thinks he should attend private.”
If you look closely, stating your position is what was requested, not why do you take that position. Be careful not to make a statement when answering these questions that will evidence hostility or tip your hand.
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As I stated above, there is trick to this question. Whether intentional or not, it is a trap. Your attorney should be able to spot this and make sure that you answer the right way, or don’t answer and make the proper objection.
What happens if you get lazy and answer “no” to this question? You may have just agreed under oath to everything your wife thinks about raising your children, including religion, school, health care, discipline, and extracurricular activities.
That may be okay depending on your spouse, but I would wager that if you are contemplating a divorce you might have your own opinions about raising your children.
You should answer this question stating any disagreements. Do not worry about whether or not they are “major” as that is a vague word and has no real meaning. Go ahead and state your position on issues where you believe you are in agreement.
An answer to agreed positions may be stated: “So long as wife is in agreement that Junior will attend XYZ school, there is not a disagreement on that issue.”
Your divorce attorney should also formulate an objection to this as the mother’s position may have changed and it calls for you to speculate as to what the mother’s position is at the time you are answering the question. Kudos to you if you caught both the trap and the objection.
The two keys to reducing the cost and stress in answering your interrogatories are to (1) have your documentation in order before you ever get the request and (2) have your divorce lawyer help you answer the open-ended questions about your children.
Read all the articles in our “Discourse On Discovery” series: