What is a Motion to Compel?

During contentious divorce proceedings, opposing parties may hide critical evidence from one another and the court. Spouses may lie about their net worth, refuse to produce tax returns, or purposefully delete text messages incriminating them for adultery.

Some spouses provide vague answers and objections to discovery requests to burden their ex-partner financially. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse is hiding evidence, engaging in unlawful delay tactics, or otherwise failing to comply with reasonable discovery requests, an extraordinary lawyer from O’Connor Family Law can help you file a motion to compel evidence and help you throughout your divorce case. With over 25 combined years of exclusive family law experience, our attorneys know how to handle difficult divorce cases where one party may be creating obstacles.

 Scope and Limitations of a Motion to Compel

 A motion to compel asks the presiding probate and family judge to order one party to provide the opposing side with evidence related to the divorce proceedings. Such evidence may include:

  • Deposition testimony
  • Requests for admissions of undisputed facts
  • Tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and other financial information
  • Emails, text messages, photographs, and videos
  • Personal letters
  • Title documents to vehicles and homes
  • Sworn responses to interrogatories
  • Time and opportunity to inspect certain documents or property

It is important to note that you must obtain evidence through standard discovery methods, such as letters between attorneys, formal documents, or personal requests, before filing the motion to compel. Additionally, you must notify your spouse and any affected third parties that you will seek judicial intervention if they fail to provide the requested evidence. You also must have fulfilled any discovery responsibilities that you have.  If those conditions are met, your attorney can then file a motion to compel requesting the other side comply with providing you the information you were seeking.

Reasons for Requesting Judicial Intervention during Divorce Proceedings

When spouses realize the requested evidence might harm their personal or financial interests, they often make excuses for not providing it. One divorcing party may claim to have “lost” the evidence, delay giving testimony, or respond with vague objections to production. Our experienced lawyers can quickly react to these red flags by filing a motion to compel. Not only can these motions order someone to relinquish certain documents, but they may also penalize a spouse for destroying critical evidence or fraudulently transferring financial assets.

Spouses typically file motions to compel in divorce proceedings when the opposing party refuses to turn over evidence necessary to be able to settle the divorce or prepare for trial, such as financial documents, or proof of the other’s alcoholism or infidelity, which might affect their entitlement to alimony, child custody, or the division of assets. Similarly, most requests to compel discovery relate to concealed financial assets. For instance, one spouse may refuse to provide a 401k statement or information about business profits to try to keep these assets from the other party or to reduce their child or spousal support obligation.

As with most strategies within a divorce proceeding, whether you should or should not file a motion to compel depends on a number of factors.  Our firm generally conducts a cost-benefit analysis that looks at the cost of what it may take to get the information you’re seeking versus what the potential benefit is of getting that information to determine whether it is best for your particular case.  It is never going to make sense to spend thousands of dollars searching for something that is likely only worth a few hundred.

Consequences of Refusing to Provide Evidence Requested in a Motion to Compel

If the court issues an order that compels your spouse to produce the discovery you are seeking but your spouse still refuses to provide evidence, the judge may impose further sanctions such as:

  • A verdict in your favor
  • Denial to review the non-compliant spouse’s evidence that allows them to defend themselves against claims related to discovery
  • Attorney fees
  • Additional fees (called sanctions)

Lastly, the court could hold your spouse in contempt of court. Such willful non-compliance might involve certain civil fines and criminal penalties. In some situations, under Rule 37 of Massachusetts’ Domestic Relations Procedures, the court may order the offending spouse to pay the other party’s legal fees.

If the issues brought up within a motion to compel are complex, the Court may order that a Discovery Master be appointed in the case to determine which documents should or should not be produced.  A Discovery Master can be quite costly, and the possible appointment of one should be weighed within your cost-benefit analysis as well.

Get Help with Filing a Motion to Compel in a Divorce Case

Divorce litigation is already difficult enough without your ex trying to delay the process or refusing to be transparent within their financial documents. Do not let your ex-spouse get away with hiding or refusing to give you the evidence necessary to expedite the divorce process. Speak with our dedicated Massachusetts divorce litigation attorneys today for help filing a motion to compel.

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