What Goes Into the Discovery Phase of a Divorce?

If you are interested in learning more about the divorce process in Illinois, then it’s important to understand the discovery phase — and all that may go into it. 

What Does “Discovery” Mean in a Divorce?

During a dissolution of marriage, discovery is the process through which each party learns more information about the other spouse’s income, assets, expenses, and liabilities.

Generally speaking, divorce proceedings begin when one party files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, forcing the other party to respond. This gets both parties officially involved in the case. From there, the timeline of your divorce depends on how swiftly you and your spouse can reach agreement on many key issues, such as child support, maintenance (formerly alimony), or the division of property and assets.

More often than not, settling these important issues requires finding out more about the other spouse’s finances, assets, and personal records — at which point, the discovery phase of the divorce begins.

Discovery is intended to compel the release of information from the other party during a legal proceeding; the rules governing the discovery process are set down by the Illinois Rules on Civil Proceedings in the Trial Court, which you can peruse in full here. Depending on the specifics of your situation, discovery may be quick and simple, or the longest and most drawn-out phase of your divorce. 

Discovery can be formal or informal. Informal discovery is more common in cases where the couple has few assets, or if both parties agree to fully cooperate. In fact, if a divorce remains uncontested and both parties agree on issues such as disposition of property, allocation of debt, child support, and maintenance, it may be possible to proceed without a formal discovery process. In contrast, formal discovery typically takes place when there is a contested issue, or if one spouse has a reason for wanting to get a more complete picture of the other spouse’s finances. In such a situation, formal discovery is a way to hold the other party accountable, and provide assurances that all relevant information has been disclosed. 

Many different types of information can be requested and exchanged during discovery, including the location, value, and ownership of marital property and separately owned property; records of a spouse’s income and employment; business records; financial statements; documentation on insurance policies and retirement accounts; and relevant documentary evidence that may pertain to a contested financial issue in the divorce. 

Methods of Discovery in an Illinois Divorce

In Illinois, there are several different methods that may be used to discover information from the other party during a divorce, including: 

Financial Affidavits

A financial affidavit is a disclosure, under oath, of your income, assets, expenses, and liabilities. In Illinois, a financial affidavit requires supporting documentation, which might include pay stubs, income tax returns, and recent bank statements. Broadly speaking, the financial affidavit is considered the most basic type of discovery, and should be exchanged in every divorce case.

Written Interrogatories

Put simply, written interrogatories refer to a list of questions for another person to answer within a set window of time (generally 28 days in Illinois). This list may include questions about the individual’s finances, as well as questions pertaining to division of parenting time, parental responsibilities, and a number of other relevant subjects. 

Notice to Produce Documents, Objects, or Tangible Things

This is a written request for the other party to promptly produce certain documents or tangible items to be inspected. This request might encompass a broad range of documents, dating back years — including tax returns, proof of payment, insurance documents, lease statements, mortgage statements, and more. Generally, a party has 28 days in Illinois to collect and present the requested documents or items. 

Requests for Admission of Facts or of Genuineness of Documents

While less commonly used than some other methods of discovery, these requests may be used to ask the other party to admit or deny whether certain statements are true, or to verify whether or not a document (such as a letter, pay stub, or title document) is genuine and authentic. 


A deposition is an opportunity to ask the other party or a relevant witness to make statements under oath, which are recorded in full by a court reporter. In addition to being transcribed, depositions may be recorded on video. Depositions can be quite broad or narrow in scope. Attorneys for both parties are present at a deposition. 


In family law matters, subpoenas are most commonly used to compel discovery from a third party. A subpoena duces tecum may be used to obtain documents or records from any outside party who may have access to necessary information or direct knowledge relevant to the case, such as your spouse’s employer, a mortgage servicer, or a bank official. Subpoenas are issued by the clerk of the court. Failure to respond to a subpoena can result in penalties, most commonly being held in contempt of court. 

Do You Have Any More Questions About Divorce or Family Law in Chicago?

Understanding the many moving parts that go into an Illinois divorce can be confusing and exhausting, even under the best of circumstances. There are many details and conditions in family law that can be difficult to fully understand. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this stressful time alone.

At The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., we make it our mission to ensure that our clients understand the divorce process at each and every step of the way — from petition, to discovery, to settlement, to  post-decree matters such as modifying parenting agreements or determining college contributions. 

Our attorneys and staff are skilled in handling legal matters in some of life’s most challenging family transitions, including divorce and the many considerations that go along with it — including issues of property division, maintenance, allocation of marital debts, parental responsibility, and parenting time. 

Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals.

If you have any more questions about discovery, or any other aspect of divorce in Illinois, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.