An essential aspect of a divorce is exchanging financial information through the process of discovery. Discovery is necessary to understand the full financial picture of the divorce, which then helps determine property division, spousal support, and other aspects of a divorce settlement. Discovery can be informal, or it can be court-ordered. An experienced Metro East divorce attorney is a necessary ally when navigating a court-ordered formal divorce.

Formal and informal discovery allows spouses to exchange important information about assets, debts, and other resources. While informal discovery can be less stressful and more straightforward with an attorney, formal discovery needs the experience of an attorney. There are specific tools used to determine if a spouse is hiding assets or lying about their financial situation, and an attorney knows when these tools of formal discovery are necessary.

Formal Discovery vs. Informal Discovery

Informal discovery is only possible when a couple is getting an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce occurs when spouses can agree on or negotiate the terms of a separation agreement outside of court. When spouses are amicable, they can share information freely in an informal discovery process. This voluntary disclosure works for many couples, and formal discovery is unnecessary.

However, in all contested divorces and some uncontested divorces, discovery is ordered by the family court and is formal. Formal discovery is more serious and comes with potential legal consequences.

Information Reviewed in the Discovery Process

In both formal and informal discovery, important information is exchanged between parties to better understand the full financial situation of each spouse and their combined finances. The information that is exchanged includes:

  • Income, assets, and other resources
  • Expenses and debts
  • Employment history
  • A business, if one or both spouses own one, or any business interests
  • Investments, stocks, and bonds
  • Real estate or properties
  • Federal and state tax returns
  • Any information regarding children involved in the divorce
  • The cost of insurance and healthcare

In both contested and uncontested divorces, this financial information is important for determining a fair division of assets, calculating child support, and deciding if spousal support should be awarded.

In a contested divorce, property is divided by the court according to equitable distribution laws. This division may be unequal, and the separate assets of each spouse are one deciding factor in what an equitable division is.

Additionally, the discovery process, particularly a court-ordered discovery process, is useful in determining if either spouse is hiding assets. There are several tools in formal discovery that an experienced attorney can use to determine if a spouse is hiding marital or separate assets.

Tools Available in Court-Ordered Discovery

There are several tools that can be used in formal discovery, but not all of them are necessary for every divorce. In a court-ordered process, spouses are required to take part in certain discovery procedures. These include:


Interrogatories are questions that each attorney sends the other spouse, which must be answered under oath. Illinois has a set list of interrogatories that are used in divorce discovery. These questions cover basic information like:

  • Your address
  • Your debts and expenses
  • The property that you own
  • Your job history
  • Your income

Interrogatories are typically limited to 30 questions, although the state-approved interrogatories have more than 30. Additional questions are only allowed with good cause and court permission.

Notice to Produce

A notice to produce is a filed request to the other spouse for specific documents. This typically includes items like:

  • Deeds
  • Tax returns
  • W-2s
  • 1099s
  • Titles
  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Retirement account statements
  • Loan statements
  • Valuations of certain properties

A notice to produce is for documentation that currently exists and would be reasonable for a spouse to still have on hand.


A deposition is done over video call or in person. In it, a spouse is expected to answer questions asked by the other spouse’s attorney. Depositions can also be done with other witnesses in the divorce case. These answers are under oath, and a court reporter is present. Depositions can be used to discover additional information or find evidence. Because the information in a deposition is under oath, contradictions in court can be used to charge an individual with perjury.


Subpoenas are requests for documents made directly to the holder of those documents, such as a bank, employer, hospital, or school. This is done when a spouse fails to produce a known document in a request to produce.


Q: What Can Be Used Against You in a Divorce in Illinois?

A: During a formal discovery in the divorce process, your spouse’s attorney can request answers to questions under oath, and they can also request that you produce certain documents and information. This is typically financial information, such as your income, resources, debts, and financial obligations. Because formal discovery depositions and interrogatories are conducted under oath, contradicting information during the divorce process can result in prosecution for perjury.

Q: How Does Discovery Work in a Divorce?

A: Informal discovery is the voluntary exchange of financial information between spouses. Formal discovery is a court-ordered process where spouses are required to comply with exchanging information and providing documents when requested. This process provides each spouse’s attorney with the financial information needed to build their case prior to litigation. The formal discovery process includes tools like written interrogatories, depositions, and subpoenas.

Q: What Is the Purpose of Discovery in Illinois?

A: Discovery in a divorce case is meant to give each spouse and their attorney a better understanding of the assets and debts of each individual spouse and the couple’s marital assets. It also provides more information about areas of dispute. That way, each party knows what information is going to be used in litigation, and they can begin creating a case for fair spousal support and property division prior to the case beginning. Discovery is also useful in searching out hidden assets of either spouse.

Q: What Are Good Questions in Divorce Discovery?

A: Illinois has pre-existing questions for written interrogatories. In some cases, you can ask the court for additional questions. Divorce discovery could also include depositions, which are in-person interviews by attorneys. Your attorney can work with you to determine what information or evidence you wish to gain, depending on your unique situation. Interrogatories and depositions typically cover information about all sources of income, witnesses who will be called at trial, and information related to specific disputes in a divorce.

Contact Stange Law Firm

The divorce process is often much more efficient and less stressful with a qualified attorney. Contact Stange Law Firm today to learn how we can help.