What is a Deposition and How Are They Used in California Divorce and Separation Proceedings?

Legal Grounds for a California Divorce or SeparationAll civil lawsuits, regardless of their type, involve the exchange of information between the parties and the adjudication of rights by a court. Family law cases are no exception.

“Discovery” is the official term given to the exchange of information among the parties to a lawsuit. In discovery, much information is exchanged in writing. For example, one party may send written questions for the other to answer in writing or may request that copies of written documents be provided. Another form of discovery is an oral deposition.

A deposition is similar to trial testimony in many ways:

  • The witness is sworn in (swears or affirms to tell the truth);
  • The lawyers for the parties are present and may make ask questions and make objections;
  • A court reporter is there to transcribe and/or record the testimony;
  • The witness is asked, and must answer, questions; and
  • The witness’s answers are used as evidence in the case.

However, depositions are also different from trial testimony. The most significant differences are that depositions take place in advance of trial, no judge or jury is present, and depositions are held in less formal settings, such conference rooms.

Depositions may be taken of the parties to the lawsuit—in family law cases, the spouses. These are known as party depositions. Party depositions allow the lawyer asking the questions to lock in the other spouse’s version of the case.

However, depositions may also be taken to learn more about what other witnesses might know. These are known as witness depositions. Witness depositions may be taken of the parties’ employers, friends or neighbors, as well expert witnesses, such as economists.

California law
sets forth specific requirements that parties and their lawyers must follow before and during depositions. For example, a notice of deposition must be provided in writing, and it must lay out the date, time, and location of the deposition. If the person being deposed is required to bring documents to the deposition, that must be stated in the notice, as well. In California, most depositions are limited to seven hours.

When conducted by experienced lawyers, oral depositions are a valuable tool used to collect information from the parties to a California family law case. In hotly contested divorce and support matters, you need an aggressive attorney with extensive experience in family law discovery and trials. Call the attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger to learn how we can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.