In 2021, the Texas Supreme Court implemented new rules for mandatory initial disclosures in family law cases. These disclosures are designed to provide the parties with basic information about each other’s case, including:
- A list of all individuals with knowledge of the facts related to the case
- A description of any documents or electronic information relevant to the case
- A description of any expert witnesses that may be called to testify
These disclosures must be exchanged within the first 45 days of the case. For cases filed prior to September 1, 2023, initial disclosures are required. However, cases filed after September 1, 2023, are not required to do initial disclosures. Failure to comply with the disclosure requirements can result in sanctions.
Types of Discovery
In addition to the new mandatory initial disclosures, some of the old discovery processes still exist. While discovery is not required by law in Texas family law cases, it is encouraged as a way to prevent surprises and facilitate a fair resolution to disputes. The discovery process in Texas family law cases typically involves two types of discovery: written discovery and deposition.
Written discovery includes:
- Interrogatories: Questions designed to gather information relevant to the case.
- Requests for Production: Specific requests for documents.
- Requests for Admissions: Requests for one party to admit certain facts in order to streamline proceedings.
After written discovery, depositions may be taken to gather additional information, although they are not required unless requested.
Depositions in Texas Family Law Cases
Depositions are a part of the discovery process and may be used as needed, but they are not mandatory. In cases with contested divorce or complex child custody disputes, it is common for both parties to “notice” depositions in order to question the opposing party on specific information not suited for interrogatories or requests for production.
Depositions involve sworn testimony given under oath, similar to being on the witness stand in a courtroom. The deposition process includes initial background questions followed by questions related to the family law matter. After the initial questions, the deposing party’s attorney will have the opportunity to ask questions for clarification. It is important to tell the truth during a deposition, as any discrepancies between your deposition testimony and courtroom testimony will need to be explained.
Depositions should not be used as an opportunity to “grill” the opposing party, but rather as a way to gather information to better present your case. After depositions, family law matters often settle in mediation, although this is a topic for another article.
Timeline for Discovery
Under Rules 196 and 197 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, discovery responses are due 30 days after receipt. This timeline may be extended with mutual consent. If a Request for Admissions is not answered within 30 days of receipt, it is deemed admitted. These requests usually contain questions that would be detrimental to your case if admitted.
The new rules for mandatory initial disclosures in Texas family law cases are an important tool for ensuring that parties have access to the basic information they need in order to effectively present their cases. Whether you choose to engage in written discovery or deposition, it is important to be honest and forthcoming in your responses in order to avoid potential consequences.
If you are involved in a family law case in Texas and have questions about the discovery process, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney. At The Blacknall Firm, we are dedicated to helping our clients navigate the legal process and achieve the best possible outcome in their cases.