You want what? The lowdown on financial discovery during Oregon divorce

When divorce and family law clients begin a case, perhaps one of the things that surprises them the most is the amount of work required to gather documents. Generally when a person is served with divorce, child custody modification, or child support modification paperwork they receive a “Request of Production of Documents.” These requests often contain lengthy lists of financial documents that are being requested by the opposing side or their attorney. Sometimes this request is viewed as offensive, abusive, or “hardball” tactics.

This process of requesting and exchanging documents is referred to by lawyers as “discovery” or the “discovery process”. While often viewed as invasive, the truth is that the discovery process is required by law for any Oregon divorce case. Financial discovery during Oregon divorce can seem daunting, but the purpose behind exchanging financial documents is to insure that both parties have full knowledge of the nature and extent of their assets. After all, if you are entitled to 50% of marital assets (for example), you need to know what those assets are, right? In fact, basic requirements are baked right into Oregon law at ORS 107.087 (Documents parties must furnish to each other during an Oregon family law matter).

ORS § 107.087 – Documents parties must furnish to each other
(1) If served with a copy of this section as provided in ORS 107.088 (Clerk of court to furnish certain information when petition is filed), each party in a suit for legal separation or for dissolution shall provide to the other party copies of the following documents in their possession or control:

  • (a) All federal and state income tax returns filed by either party for the last three calendar years.
  • (b) If income tax returns for the last calendar year have not been filed, all W-2 statements, year-end payroll statements, interest and dividend statements and all other records of income earned or received by either party during the last calendar year.
  • (c) All records showing any income earned or received by either party for the current calendar year.
  • (d) All financial statements, statements of net worth and credit card and loan applications prepared by or for either party during the last two calendar years.
  • (e) All documents such as deeds, real estate contracts, appraisals and most recent statements of assessed value relating to real property in which either party has any interest.
  • (f) All documents showing debts of either party, including the most recent statement of any loan, credit line or charge card balance due.
  • (g)(A) Certificates of title or registrations of all automobiles, motor vehicles, boats or other personal property registered in either partys name or in which either party has any interest.
  • (B) For all automobiles, motor vehicles and boats described in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, documentation evidencing the vehicle identification number or other unique identifying number.
  • (h) Documents showing stocks, bonds, secured notes, mutual funds and other investments in which either party has any interest.
  • (i) The most recent statement describing any retirement plan, IRA pension plan, profit-sharing plan, stock option plan or deferred compensation plan in which either party has any interest.
  • (j) All financial institution or brokerage account records on any account in which either party has had any interest or signing privileges in the past year, whether or not the account is currently open or closed.

(2)(a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection, the party shall provide the information listed in subsection (1) of this section to the other party no later than 30 days after service of a copy of this section.
(b) If a support hearing is pending fewer than 30 days after service of a copy of this section on either party, the party upon whom a copy of this section is served shall provide the information listed in subsection (1)(a) to (d) of this section no later than three judicial days before the hearing.

(3)(a) If a party does not provide information as required by subsections (1) and (2) of this section, the other party may apply for a motion to compel as provided in ORCP 46.
(b) Notwithstanding ORCP 46 A(4), if the motion is granted and the court finds that there was willful noncompliance with the requirements of subsections (1) and (2) of this section, the court shall require the party whose conduct necessitated the motion or the party or attorney advising the action, or both, to pay to the moving party the reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order, including attorney fees.

(4) If a date for a support hearing has been set and the information listed in subsection (1)(a) to (d) of this section has not been provided as required by subsection (2) of this section:
(a) By the obligor, the judge shall postpone the hearing, if requested to do so by the obligee, and provide in any future order for support that the support obligation is retroactive to the date of the original hearing; or
(b) By the obligee, the judge shall postpone the hearing, if requested to do so by the obligor, and provide that any support ordered in a future hearing may be prospective only.

(5) The provisions of this section do not limit in any way the discovery provisions of the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure or any other discovery provision of Oregon law.

The law specifies the bare minimum documents to be provided during the course of your case. Attorneys may have requests that are much more thorough than the legal necessities, and generally this is done for a client’s protection. Don’t be surprised if a discovery request is more expansive than the law listed above. Because of these requirements, when starting an Oregon divorce, Oregon child custody case, or spousal support case, you should expect that you will need to provide the other side access to a fair number of financial and/or property documents. You don’t get to hide assets, period.

Also remember that when your attorney or the attorney for the opposing side asks for documents, they are generally doing their job. Unfortunately, there are also attorneys who misuse this process by asking for irrelevant documents, unnecessarily remote-in-time or voluminous documents, or materials that are of little value but burdensome to obtain. Abusing the discovery process in this way is unethical and is fortunately relegated to all but the most unskilled and unprofessional attorneys. These attorneys could be sanctioned for their sub-par actions; ultimately they harm their client’s interests by unethical practices. The best Oregon divorce and family law lawyers recognize the discovery process as transactional tool necessary to help equitably divide property and assist their clients.

When beginning any kind of new family law case, you should expect that discovery will occur. It is best to start gathering and organizing relevant documents early and over time so that you can provide them to your lawyer. Your lawyer will determine if documents are protected, privileged, or irrelevant. If you are representing yourself and need guidance, it may be worth your time to consult with an experienced Oregon family law lawyer to answer your questions, even if you do not intend to retain them for the whole case. Feel free to contact us today to schedule a consultation.