Walden Pond author Henry David Thoreau helped invent the #2 pencil. According to Mental Floss, the graphite used in 1. This odd historical tidbit is not random, because most people use the #2 pencil to fill out standardized exams, surveys, and questionnaires. In legal circles, a typical questionnaire is the interrogatory, a written series of questions related to a criminal or civil case. Divorce interrogatories are one type of interrogatory in family law.
The Stepping Stones of Divorce
Divorce occurs in steps. Interrogatories are the second of five parts:
- Disclosure — Information and items you want from her side
- Interrogatories — Written questions you want from her side
- Admissions of Fact — Facts you acknowledge and direct to her side
- Request for Production — Your way of getting bank records, insurance documents, payroll stubs and other papers to help your case
- Depositions — A live interview (sworn testimony) with a witness, recorded and usually transcribed
How Interrogatories Work
With all the steps to divorce, remember you each have the same legal maneuvers to exploit. You cannot, for example, demand written answers from your wife to your interrogatory but refuse to answer her questions in her interrogatory.
Virginia limits interrogatories to 30 questions and specifies that the answers must include the question. Exceptions to the number are made in complex cases; the judge has discretion but will not tolerate questions unrelated to your case. Keep in mind one question could hold three or more detailed parts, each to be answered, so that total of 30 is a guideline, not an absolute. Interrogatories generally must be answered within 30 days in Virginia.
The written answer to each question must be prefaced with the word “Answer.” A very clear template related to custody and visitation interrogatories from Loudoun County gives a clear sense of what to expect.
You Must Be Honest
An interrogatory is a legal document, so answers must be both complete and honest. Withholding information in a written answer is only permissible if you object to the question itself. If you object to the question, you and your attorney need to state the reasons for your objection. No “not applicable” or partial answers for you!
You also cannot shade your answer:
- Reality — You gambled away the mortgage payment
- Written response — “A business investment opportunity did not produce expected results”
The answers you provide are evidence to be used in court. Either side can refer to them as though you had said the answers aloud in the courtroom.
This means the exact phrasing and wording you choose for your answer is crucial. Answers must be factual but can contain opinion. Exaggeration, lies, veiled threats and similar responses are not permitted.
All Your Answers Questioned Here
The surest way to protect yourself from later accusations of lying on an interrogatory is to have your divorce attorney craft the answers with you. If you rush to complete an interrogatory without having a legal expert examine your words, you could be giving up too much information, inadvertently misrepresenting the facts, or forgetting an important detail.
Having another set of eyes read your interrogatory answers can prevent misunderstandings. Not everyone is a gifted writer; not everyone knows how to put words on paper that accurately and correctly state facts or deliver forceful but precise opinion.
Have your attorney question all your answers together, in private, before they become evidence in the proceedings.
Wha He Say?
Unfortunately, some attorneys zealously defend their clients’ rights by attacking the other side. One tool is an interrogatory that is more like a barbed spear than a gentle probe. Since the questions can reasonably cover everything in a divorce from accusations of adultery to a lifetime’s worth of earnings records, some attorneys use the interrogatory as a weapon:
- Harass — “When did you stop sleeping with your secretary?”
- Burden — “Produce every banking statement from your wedding day 15 years ago to this month”
- Obfuscate — “Which Virginia Beach hotels and motels did you not use for assignations with your secretary?”
- Oppress — “Produce all police reports related to your alcoholism”
- Violate attorney-client privilege — “List all payments to your attorney, meeting dates, and dates of telephone calls longer than three minutes”
If you keep clear communication with your lawyer, your attorney can deftly turn aside these egregious abuses of the interrogatory. Based on a careful reading of the questions, your family law attorney can also help suss out the strategy your wife’s attorney is using, and what experts or witnesses may be called. This will be helpful in preparing any necessary defense.
To have all of your answers questioned before they reach a Virginia courtroom, contact The Firm For Men‘s family law attorneys at 757-383-9184, or contact us online. We can protect you, your reputation, and your rights as a Virginia man. We are experienced in framing and responding to divorce interrogatories. Before you say something you will regret, see us first.