An unusual recent case highlights a risk that couples should be aware of when considering divorce—the disclosure of potentially embarrassing personal information. During her divorce proceedings, State Legislator Michelle Ugenti claimed legislative privilege and attorney client privilege to prevent Verizon from handing over several months of text messages to her husband. Her husband’s lawyer had attempted to subpoena the records, most likely to try demonstrating that Ugenti was having an affair.
Ugenti’s lawyers claimed that the texts were irrelevant under Arizona family law and that they were privileged communications. The husband withdrew his request before a court could decide.
However the judge might have ruled, the case is a useful illustration of how damaging the discovery process can be during the dissolution of a marriage. The parties may use any weapon they can find to gain leverage in negotiations or simply humiliate each other.
Arizona family law requires the parties to file a detailed “resolution statement” packed with information needed to terminate a marriage fairly. They have to complete an Affidavit of Financial Information with proof of income, including tax returns and financial records related to wages and investments. They have to document a wide variety of expenses, including medical, childcare, and education costs. They also have to make full disclosure of assets and indebtedness. All of these are minimum requirements in most cases.
Further, each party can submit “interrogatories” —written requests for information. They can also submit a “request for production” of certain documents. Or a “request for admission” — a statement which the receiving spouse must admit to, deny, or object to. Some requests may be reasonable, but others may be an attempt to expose secrets and harass the other side. A court may have to rule on whether a request is legitimate.
In an amicable divorce, the discovery process can be complex and daunting. In a contested divorce, it is often a battleground. In either case, the information uncovered can have a lasting impact on spousal maintenance, child custody and support, and division of marital property.
Before moving forward with a petition for divorce, you should be fully prepared for the disclosures that will ensue. An experienced family law attorney can guide you on how much information to provide, how much to seek, and how to handle probing interrogatories and requests. We’ve provided family law help in Arizona for more than 24 years. For answers to divorce, separation, and property distribution questions in the Scottsdale, Arizona area, call Nirenstein Garnice PLLC at 480-351-4804.