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by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue divorce and family law lawyer

This is a how-to guide on interrogatories and requests for production in Washington divorce and family law cases. It explains how to propound them (draft and send out) and answer them, including objections.

Preparing interrogatories and requests for production

The explanation contains three main sections:

1) An Overview,
2) Propounding a Discovery Set, and
3) Answering a Discovery Set, including objections.

Our firm intends to write a separate article on what to do if the other side fails to timely answer your interrogatories and requests for production or provides insufficient answers.

I. An Overview

Interrogatories and requests for production are the most common “discovery devices”, meaning the most common way of obtaining information from another party in a court case. The primary rule governing discovery is CR 26, with additional discovery rules ranging between CR 27 and 37. Our firm has or will write a separate article on the many discovery devices available. Because interrogatories and requests for production are the most common form of discovery, they are often simply called a “discovery set” or “discovery”.

An interrogatory is a written question or request for information for another party to answer in writing. For example, an interrogatory might ask another party to “identify all expert witnesses you intend to call at trial.” The primary rule governing interrogatories is CR 33.

A request for production, as the name suggests, is a request for another party to produce something, usually copies of documents. For example: “produce your tax returns and W2s for the last five years.” The primary rule governing requests for production is CR 34.

They’re generally used together as part of a large set of combined interrogatories and requests for production. It’s usually a thick document, often 20-100 pages.

Interrogatories and requests for production can only be sent to a party, that is, someone named in the caption of the case. They can’t be propounded upon a non-party, such as the other side’s sister or employer.

Answers/responses are due 30 days after the set is propounded (sent to the recipient). If delivered to the office of the attorney representing the party, they’re deemed propounded when dropped off. Likewise, they’re deemed instantly propounded if handed to the recipient.

If propounded by mail, three extra days are added. When the third day falls on a weekend or court holiday, the 30 days begin upon the next court day. For instance, if you place a set in the mail on the Wednesday before Martin Luther King Day, the 30 days wouldn’t begin until the next Tuesday (the third day lands on a Saturday, and the next court day would be Tuesday).

The recipient usually writes answers in the area provided after each interrogatory and attaches responsive documents to the end of the discovery set.

II. Propounding a Discovery Set

In a well drafted discovery set, interrogatories and requests for production work synergistically. For example, an interrogatory might ask the recipient to “identify all emails mentioning alcohol.” Then the subsequent request for production asks the recipient to “produce all emails identified in the preceding interrogatory.”

Some counties place limits on the number of interrogatories and requests for production a party can propound. For example, King County limits the number of interrogatories; Snohomish County does not. You can assume there are no limitations unless the county’s local rules say otherwise. You can find each county’s local rules by clicking here. Pay particular attention to local rules 26 (general discovery rule), 32 (rule pertaining to interrogatories), and 33 (rule on requests for production), if any.

The following are some of our firm’s discovery sets in editable Word format:

Often there won’t be a pre-drafted set that works exactly for your intended purpose. In that situation, propounding a set of “contention interrogatories” might allow you to create a hand-crafted discovery set that works well. For contention interrogatories, you ask the other party to provide information relating to contested statements the other side has made, such as in the petition or response to the petition. You can find our firm’s template for contention interrogatories by clicking the link in this sentence.

If you use any of our templates, please remove any reference us, of course.

You can propound multiple discovery sets, or you can combine discovery sets. For example, you might send the General Family Law Set and contention interrogatories.

When you send a discovery set, sign it. Make a copy so you can send the original and still have a record of what you sent, including your signature page. Generally you’ll have an adult other than you deliver or mail the discovery set to the opposing party’s attorney or directly to the other party. Mail tends to be easiest. Click here for a template declaration of delivery or mailing.

It’s considered a courtesy to email a Word version to the attorney/party for ease in responding.

Don’t court file a copy of the discovery set at this time (it isn’t allowed), but do file a copy of the declaration of mailing or other proof of delivery or mailing.

III. Answering a Discovery Set

As unfair as it might seem, you’re generally required to answer any discovery sets another party propounds upon you. Mark your calendar with the 30-day due date. If you don’t have a Word copy already, consider asking opposing counsel or the opposing party for one. Typing answers into a Word copy saves time.

If you can’t get a Word copy or don’t want to risk receiving a virus from the opposing party’s computer, you can handwrite your answers in the blanks provided on the discovery set. Handwriting isn’t ideal of course. Another option is to create a Word response sheet. You’re welcome to use our firm’s Word response sheet template.

If the other party propounds an interrogatory requesting information from one or more documents, you can simply attach the document(s) behind a cover sheet and answer “see the attached documents, which speak for themselves.” Use our firm’s template cover sheet.

Responsive documents generally need to be labeled in a way that shows which request for production (or interrogatory) they are responsive to. All the documents responsive to particular request for production can be included behind one cover sheet rather than labeling each responsive document separately. Here’s our firm’s template cover sheet for document production.

In lieu of providing sorted copies of responsive documents, you can give the opposing party access to the unsorted originals. For example, you could give access to the room where you store all your records. Most people don’t want to give unfettered access to large numbers of unsorted originals, so they provide sorted copies instead. In our firm’s experience, giving access to unsorted originals only makes sense when the documents are extremely voluminous.

Sometimes discovery requests will seek information you don’t have. You’re usually required to get that information if it’s within your direction and control. For example, if your bank has the information sought, it’s within your direction and control. Your banker will give it to you if you ask.

Sometimes getting the information will take a while, even if it’s in your direction and control. You can say as much in your answer/response, then provide supplemental answers/responses later. The supplemental answers/responses only need to include the new document production. You don’t need to provide all the old information twice.

You can object to interrogatories and requests for production on a number of grounds. Click here for our firm’s summarized objection list. You should state “objection” and then explain. Generally you also answer the discovery request even if it’s objectionable. If an objectionable request calls for an overly burdensome response, you can provide a brief or summary response following the objection. The following is a typical an example:

Interrogatory 55: Identify all persons having knowledge concerning any of the facts relevant to your divorce, designating which facts and issues each person has knowledge of.

ANSWER: Objection, the terms “having knowledge”, “concerning any of the facts,” “relevant to your divorce,” “designating which facts and issues,” and “has knowledge of” are vague and, construed broadly, would render this request overbroad and unduly burdensome.  Calls for “all the facts”.  Calls for a dress rehearsal of trial.  See Weber v. Biddle, 72 Wn.2d 22, 29 (1967).  Subject to and without waiving any objections, Respondent answers as follows:

To really answer this, I’d have to list anybody I have ever met and a bunch of details about them.  That’s impossible.

Aside from the parties, I think the main person with knowledge is James Smith, our adult son, who lives at 5555 Avenue D, Snohomish, WA 98290.  He has knowledge of most of the facts of the case, as do both parties to the case. All our bankers, accountants, friends, relatives, neighbors, and clergy probably have relevant information as well.

Objections are important, because they’re essentially placeholders for objections at trial. That is, if you don’t object to a question posed in an interrogatory, you probably waive the ability to object to its use at trial.

As a general rule of thumb, our firm tries to explicitly object to less than 10% of a discovery set unless it’s really bad, in which case we might object more. Explicitly objecting makes a party seem obstructive, and courts tend to side against obstructive parties in family law. Objecting infrequently has become a family law norm in many, if not most, parts of Washington.

If you want to object to more than 10% but don’t want to do so explicitly, there’s a workaround. Build the gist of the objection into your answer. This arguably preserves your objection for purposes of trial while seeming less obstructive.

For example, consider this interrogatory: “identify all times you struck your children”. Maybe you’ve spanked your children but have never abused them. Rather write “Objection, the phrase ‘struck your children’ is vague”, your answer could point out the vagueness more casually. You might answer with “I’m not sure what you mean by the term ‘struck your children’, but I assume you don’t mean spanking them. With that in mind, I believe the correct answer to your interrogatory is ‘never’.”

Remember that your answers and responses will be used against you at trial. Make an effort to word them well, and don’t offer more information than the discovery set calls for. You can always provide more information at trial.

Also ensure your answers are complete and honest. If you don’t provide information called for, the trial judge can prohibit you from providing more information on the subject. A trial judge can also make inferences against a party who hides information or answers deceitfully.

To this end, make sure to supplement your answers and responses if they change in any material way. It’s required, and you don’t want incomplete answers to haunt you at trial.

On a parting note, don’t worry too much if your discovery responses aren’t ready to go by the 30th day. The due date is fairly flexible. Best to try to getting them done on time though. More on that in our upcoming article on late or unsatisfactory discovery responses.

Make a copy of your answers/responses for your records. Then send the original set of your answers/responses directly to the party who propounded them or that person’s attorney. Don’t file them with the court.

That’s it! We hope you found this information useful. Our firm believes in making high quality legal information available on the internet for free. For more free articles, guides, and videos, we encourage you to visit our website’s resources tab (upper right corner).

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