The pitfalls of boilerplate supplemental interrogatories

Posted Saturday, September 14th, 2019 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Litigation Strategy, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

I’m shocked how often I encounter supplemental interrogatories in family court in which the issuing attorney has clearly given no thought into how interrogatories might be useful in that particular case. The ability to require the opposing party to answer up to fifty (including subparts) unique questions, under oath, and early in the case, without having to take that party’s deposition, is an excellent tool for learning the other side’s position, obtaining useful admissions, and developing impeachment evidence. But this tool is useful only if one puts some thought into its use.

There’s definitely a place for boilerplate supplemental interrogatories–which I define as interrogatories that one routinely asks in all similar cases. Due to South Carolina’s unique prohibition on awarding alimony to adulterous spouses, I will always issue an interrogatory asking about adultery in cases where alimony is at issue. I will always issue an interrogatory about my client’s fitness when custody is at issue. I will always issue an interrogatory asking about non-marital property when equitable distribution is at issue. Using some of one’s fifty potential supplemental interrogatories for boilerplate is advisable.

However, in contrast to requests for production–in which there are no limitations on the number of requests one can issue and thus one is free to go “hog wild” on boilerplate–or requests for admissions–what conceivable boilerplate requests to admit could one develop?–the limitation on the number of supplemental interrogatories that one can issue should limit one’s use of boilerplate. Further, the non boilerplate supplemental interrogatories need to be tailored to both the unique facts of each case and the important issues in the case.

For example, in a one-year marriage where custody of an infant is hotly contested, supplemental interrogatories should focus on custody issues more than equitable distribution or alimony. In contrast, with a twenty-five year marriage where there is a large income disparity and substantial assets, and the youngest child is seventeen, devoting numerous interrogatories to address custody issues is stupid. If the maintenance of life insurance is somehow pressing, devoting a few interrogatories to the issue makes sense. However issuing an eight-subpart boilerplate interrogatory on life insurance when custody is the pressing issue–as happened in a case I just took over–is insane.

It does not require tremendous experience, or tremendous intellect, to be a decent family law attorney. If attorneys would simply put a bit of thought into the work product they issue, the quality of their work would greatly improve. There’s no excuse for issuing fifty–or even thirty– boilerplate supplemental interrogatories.

One thought on The pitfalls of boilerplate supplemental interrogatories

  1. Gary Frazier says:

    Rule 36(c). A party may serve on any other party more than one set of requests to admit, but the total number of all requests to one party shall not exceed twenty requests, including subparts, except by leave of court upon good cause shown.

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