Legal issues between family members are typically one of the most stressful events a spouse will experience. Just the fact a family court becomes involved in a personal family issue frequently causes high tension between all members in the family. Most family members are reluctant to testify or provide relevant evidence in a family-related dispute. In some cases, a subpoena will be needed to legally require a spouse to follow the law.
Our Los Angeles family and divorce law firm are often called to find out how they can find and prepare evidence for their family related legal matter. In most cases, these issues are related to child support, spousal support, property division, and assets and debts. Common issues include how to prove my spouse is working “under the table” because he is claiming he can't afford child support or he is hiding assets and is refusing to disclose them.
Another issue we encounter is a situation where one spouse claims their doctor has diagnosed them with an illness and they are too sick to work, but the spouse knows for a fact they are not sick and are lying to the family court. One of the best weapons for preparing a defense in a divorce or family-related issue involving money and assets in a subpoena. In simple terms, a California subpoena is a legal document requiring the recipient to do something.
In other words, it's not an option, rather a mandatory request they can't refuse to comply without a legal reason. These subpoenas can be issued by your family attorney or the clerk of the court if you represent yourself. It should be noted there are different types of subpoenas, depending on what you need. Contact our divorce lawyers at Furman & Zavatsky LLP to review the specific details of your case in order to determine if a subpoena is the appropriate course of action. Let's review below the different types of subpoenas and under what situations they are needed.
Production of Documents
Divorces require the production of many documents, such as financial records showing how many assets each spouse has in their own name. In an amicable divorce, each spouse should voluntarily produce documents, and all information should be put out on the table in a transparent manner. Unfortunately, things don't always work as planned. If you need to compel the production of documents, or if you need to secure a person's appearance to testify, you might need a subpoena. Our Los Angeles divorce lawyers use subpoenas in a variety of situations, which we explain in more detail below.
What is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a legal, mandatory request that a person do something. In other words, it requires someone to act in a specific way. If you receive a subpoena, you can be required to appear in court, produce documents, or show up in court with documents. In family law matters, there are three types of subpoenas:
- Civil Subpoena for Personal Appearance at Trial or Hearing (Form SUBP-001). You can use this subpoena to compel a person to come and testify at a hearing or a trial. It's useful for getting testimony on record that might clear up a dispute or supports a legal argument you are claiming. It could even provide information from a neutral party about a complicated legal situation. For example, you might want your spouse's boss to testify about how much your spouse makes at work or a friend to testify about drug use by your spouse.
- Civil Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents (Form SUBP-002). This is like the above subpoena, though you also want the person to bring documents with them. This type of subpoena requires someone to turn over documents relevant to a legal proceeding. For example, your spouse's boss can bring copies of W-2 forms or pay-stubs to the hearing.
- Deposition Subpoena for Production of Business Records (Form SUBP-010). This subpoena requests only documents. Typical records in a divorce or support matter include, bank records, investment accounts, credit card statements, employment records, medical records, police records, among others. This type if subpoena is often useful in situations where the other party is under reports income or they are hiding their assets. A bank could certify their records and then send them to you. There is no reason for a person to attend a hearing.
If the person who receives the subpoena refuses to comply, they can get into legal trouble. As we mentioned above, subpoenas are mandatory. For this reason, they often provide insurance, even if you have a friendly witness who is volunteering to testify. You can still serve them a subpoena just to protect yourself.
Subpoenas and Family Law Issues
Subpoenas are used by the plaintiff or defendant in a family law proceeding. This includes a divorce, spousal support, child custody issues, or modification of a prior court order. Subpoenas can also be served on the other parties who might have relevant evidence or information about the family law issue.
As discussed above, in many cases, these type of legal disputes are very personal and the decisions made by the family court are life-altering. Therefore, it should be no surprise many potential parties to the case are not ready and willing to provide voluntary assistance. A subpoena is most often used in a family law case to legally force an unwilling party to cooperate.
As stated, the plaintiff or defendant can request a subpoena, but they are issued under the authority of a Los Angeles family law court. If you choose to ignore a lawful court order, it's a form of contempt that can be punished by civil fines and criminal charges. If you don't fully obey a subpoena, you could be facing severe financial consequences and might even end up in jail.
If you are requesting documents from the other party in the lawsuit—say, your spouse in a divorce action—you don't need to subpoena them. Instead, you can make requests for the production of documents. You use a subpoena on third parties. In a divorce, third parties are institutions like banks or people who are not your spouse.
What Can You Get with a Subpoena?
Often, you need to use a subpoena when you think your spouse is not being entirely honest that they have no documents to turn over. For example, to calculate child support, a judge needs to know how much money each parent makes. But you think your spouse is trying to hide income from a job. You send a Request for Production, but he says he has no documents relevant to your request.
Because you suspect your spouse is lying, you want to take a look at his bank records and maybe other financial information, such as a copy of his individual tax return. You will need a subpoena to force banks, accountants, and others to turn over documents.
Other situations when you might need a subpoena include:
- Your spouse is claiming that he is too sick to work a regular job, but you suspect this is false. You would probably like to get copies of medical records that show the real severity of any disability.
- A spouse is getting paid under the table and you want to know how much he or she is earning.
- Your spouse is not being honest about his or her credit card debt, and you want to see those statements.
The situations where you could benefit from a subpoena are endless. Many Los Angeles divorce attorneys have found that a subpoena is a powerful tool that helps them construct a winning case.
What are the Added Benefits of a Subpoena?
In addition to legally compelling a person to testify or hand over documents, you gain additional benefits from a subpoena:
- A custodian will certify any records. This allows you to admit them into court.
- You can obtain complete and accurate documents with a subpoena. You don't have to rely on your spouse being thorough about what they turn over.
- If your spouse withheld information, you could get a court to issue sanctions and receive attorneys' fees or other beneficial relief. Nothing can help your case more than convincing a judge that the other side is dishonest.
Issuing a subpoena is usually easy, but only an experienced attorney will know how to use them most effectively.
Contact our Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys
Subpoenas can provide substantial assistance in Los Angeles family law matters. If you are in the midst of a family law dispute, you might not know what next step to take. Often, obtaining the necessary evidence to prevail is exhausting, and you might feel overwhelmed. Reach out to our experienced Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys for assistance.
Our lawyers have represented countless people in divorce, child custody, and paternity suits, and we are prepared to assist you, too. For more information, or to schedule a free consultation, call our law firm at 818-528-3471. We serve clients throughout Los Angeles County from or office in the San Fernando Valley.
Furman & Zavatsky LLP
Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
15821 Ventura Blvd #690
Encino, CA 91436