As a family law attorney in East Texas, I handle a variety of family law cases. From simple divorces where both parties only want a skilled draftsman to draft paperwork, to proving or disproving allegations of child abuse and neglect, to high stakes parental termination cases, each case is different. And wisely, each case is handled differently, especially when it comes to discovery and initial disclosures.
Discovery is a means of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of one’s case. It is a process of requesting documents and asking certain questions. Generally, the opposing party must respond within 30 days. For a variety of reasons, discovery is helpful for my clients.
It’s a way of forcing the other party to show their hand. They may have a royal flush or they may just have two pair. Either way, the cards are on the table.
A skilled attorney can use discovery responses to:
- Help the client plan a counterattack
- Realize how difficult it will be to win on certain issues
- Develop a reasonable settlement offer
- Convince the other side that resisting is pointless
The year 2021 brings big changes to the discovery process. But these changes will not be kind to those without an attorney and not prepared. Certain information must now be disclosed AUTOMATICALLY to the other side within 30 days of the first answer in the case.
The idea of automatic disclosure itself is new to Texas family law attorneys. They were accustomed to responding to discovery requests, and not having to typically provide information without a request. For those without an attorney, this change can be downright frightening.
What must be disclosed? Examples include:
- Settlement agreements
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Real estate documents
- Retirement documents
- Recent financial statements
Most notably, documents that can support a claim or defense need to be provided. This is the very definition of showing one’s hand. The new rule also states that a party must provide witnesses and potential exhibits 30 days before trial.
A Texas family law attorney will be prepared to address the new initial disclosure rules. While that is inconvenient in many respects, it shouldn’t disadvantage their client. Unrepresented parties (pro se) could be at a disadvantage because of the rules. Especially when facing an attorney on the other side. Why?
Unrepresented parties may not realize if they are getting incomplete disclosures from the other side. They may not know how to object to it, and may be happy they are getting anything from an attorney without asking for it!
Also, pro se parties may not know or be ready to provide disclosures themselves. If they don’t provide the evidence they need to support their case they likely won’t be allowed to admit that evidence later at trial. Their lack of legal know-how may be all they need to sink their case, no matter how good.
As if 2020 wasn’t hard enough, 2021 is putting some new hurdles in the way of unrepresented family law parties. While not all bad, initial disclosures will give pro se litigants some information. The pitfalls of initial disclosures is another reason why going it alone is NOT a good idea.
At TLC Law, we are happy to offer a free phone consultation. We expect a great deal of traffic on the subject of initial disclosures in 2021. If you have questions, contact us or call 903-871-1714