How can you make your divorce lawyer poorer? Comply with discovery requests in a timely manner. A common mistake clients make in divorce cases is failing to produce documents in discovery. They either think their spouse does not need all the material requested, the other lawyer is just harassing them with the request, or that their spouse should “know” how much money they have anyway. This head-in-the sand attitude is a loser and will only cost money in the end.
Discovery is the process by which attorneys seek information from the other party, by use of a list of questions (known as “Interrogatories”), a “Request for Production of Documents,” by depositions (statements taken under oath), and subpoenas (court-ordered document requests sent to third parties like banks or employers).
Court rules allow parties to request information from each other, usually going back three to five years. While certain information may not seem relevant for a given case, relevance for discovery has a broad definition. Information that has ‘some tendency to lead to the production of relevant evidence’ is discoverable. So even though three year old bank statements may not seem relevant, you do have to produce them. Also, documents you can readily obtain even though they are not in your possession (like bank statements) have to be produced. So just because you don’t have them in a file cabinet does not excuse you from obtaining them. You may need to download statements from your bank online, or request older ones from a bank or credit card issuer.
The sooner you can produce documents to your lawyer, the better. The better organized you are, for example having paper documents in order and grouped by account – the more in legal fees you will save. If you turn over a box filled with jumbled-up paper, attorneys or paralegals will need to sort through it which costs you money.
Our firm prefers that clients send us scans of documents, on a USB drive or by email. This saves the client some money spent organizing and scanning documents.
Please send everything, and I mean everything, responsive to requests if at all possible. If you cannot get something, tell us so we can help you get it, or at least we can then report to the other attorney that it cannot be easily obtained.
Don’t play hide and seek with documents. Counsel for your spouse will eventually figure out what is missing, and spend fees sending us letters and filing motions with the court requesting compliance. Then we have to bill you to read these letters and respond to the motions. This is money wasted and does not get you closer to completing your case. Courts have little patience with people they perceive are hiding information.
In Re Marriage of Micheli, 2014 IL App (2d) 121245 (July 31, 2014)
In this case, the trial court divided all marital assets equally, including vested stock options, but then awarded all unvested stock options and Restricted Stock Units (“RSU”) to the husband.
Restricted Stock Units, like options, are a form of deferred compensation from an employer. The units are awarded to an employee, and when the restriction terminates, the RSUs become common stock. The RSUs yield dividends to the employee before they vest.
The Appellate Court reversed, holding that awarding all unvested options and RSUs to the husband was an abuse of discretion. To explain, trial courts have fairly wide latitude or “discretion” to award marital property equitably to parties in divorce, but there are limits to this discretion.
The Appellate Court reasoned that all unvested options must be apportioned at the time of judgment, just like stock options as set forth in Illinois law at 750 ILCS 5/503(b)(3). It further held that RSUs were analogous to options and therefore also needed to be divided between the parties as well.
The trial court stated “The uncertainty of the values of the unvested stock options and RSUs is not an impediment to an equitable distribution when they become vested.”
If you need assistance with a new divorce or would like a second opinion in an ongoing case, please contact our office to schedule a phone or in person consultation with me at 630.665.7676.