California Court Addresses Failure to Comply with Discovery Requests in Divorce

law-education-series-3-1467430 (1)During a typical divorce case, the parties are often required to provide testimony and other evidence through some form of discovery. Discovery enables the parties to obtain information about their separate and community assets and debts, among other vital information. As with most aspects of a divorce proceeding, California law governs the parties’ participation in discovery. Because evidence in a family law matter can play such an integral role in the outcome of the proceedings, it is important to understand how the discovery process works in California, and how it applies to your case. For help sorting through the intricacies of your divorce, you are encouraged to contact an experienced family lawyer from the local San Diego area.

A recent California court case illustrates how the use of discovery in a divorce proceeding can become quite tedious. Here, the parties were married for 13 years, were partners in a dental practice, and had no children. In 2013, husband filed for divorce. The couple amicably agreed that husband would buy out all of wife’s shares in the practice for $400,000. From this point forward, the proceedings took a negative turn. Husband’s counsel sought to engage in discovery with wife via her counsel, by sending interrogatories (questions) and a demand for the production of documents.

Wife’s counsel failed to respond to the first request and husband’s attorney failed to take action on that request (and lack of response). A couple of months later, husband served wife’s counsel with a notice of deposition, to which she responded shortly before the date indicating that her client (wife) could not attend, offering no explanation. Husband’s counsel made additional attempts to set up a deposition. Wife’s counsel either failed to respond, indicated wife could not attend due to medical issues, or simply cancelled the appointment. Husband filed a motion to compel wife’s attendance at a deposition. After wife failed to appear for the third time, husband filed a motion to strike wife’s responsive pleadings and enter a default judgment.

The court stated that it would not award the sanctions of striking wife’s response if she showed up at the next scheduled deposition. Wife did in fact appear at the deposition, but failed to bring any documents. Because she failed to bring documents with her, the court issued terminating sanctions and struck her responsive pleadings. Wife appealed.

The court of appeals — although sympathetic to the trial court’s clear frustration with the ongoing discovery process and wife’s failure to comply with the requests for documents and her attendance — ruled that it was legal error to strike the wife’s response for not having brought the documents with her. Under California law, a legal prerequisite for granting terminating sanctions is “willful violation of a court order” coupled with a “history of abuse.” Here, the court concluded that there was no evidence of a willful violation of the court’s order, and wife actually appeared for a deposition, just without documents. Further, the court pointed out that it was husband’s burden to seek an order compelling production of the documents sought.

The court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. While this is an unpublished opinion, and may not be relied on or cited to in future cases, the underlying legal reasoning may serve to inform courts in this jurisdiction facing similar issues.

To be sure every phase of your divorce case runs smoothly and efficiently, and in accordance with the law, you may consider reaching out to an experienced family law attorney as early as possible. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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