Interrogatory answers need to be accurate, complete, and minimal

Posted Thursday, October 8th, 2020 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Family Court Procedure, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

My standard procedure in answering interrogatories is to obtain an opposing party’s questions as a word document, cut and paste into my own responsive word document, add a return and “Answer: ” at the end of each question, and email it to my client with instructions on how to draft responses. I allow the client to draft responses at leisure with the understanding that I will review the answers for accuracy and completeness and edit the answers for clarity before finalizing them.

There is literally no way that having to answer interrogatories can help one’s case. If the other party does not propound interrogatories then I am not limited at trial to the witnesses I can call, my client cannot be impeached on inaccurate or incomplete answers, and the opposing party cannot submit my client’s answers as evidence. In theory, my client’s interrogatory answers might be useful as a prior consistent statement under SCRE 801(d)(1)(B). In practice, I have never used a client’s interrogatory answers as an exhibit at trial.

Clients often use interrogatory answers as an attempt to tell their side of the story–a reasonable action given most humans’ desire to “speak their truth.” Further the same logorrhea that causes many folks to have difficulties in interpersonal relationships does not end once they enter family court litigation. However such maximalist responses are counterproductive. There should be only three goals in answering interrogatories: accurate, complete, minimal.

Accuracy is important because, pursuant to Rule 33(a), SCRCP, these answers are verified by the client under oath and, under Rule 801(d)(2), SCRE, are admissions of a party opponent. Thus inaccurate answers can subject a client to impeachment at trial or can be used by the opposing party to establish “admitted” facts.

Completeness is important because Rule 37(a)(3), SCRCP, specifically treats an evasive or incomplete answer as a failure to answer. An incomplete answer subjects the client to a motion to compel or impeachment at trial for failing to answer.

However the only absolute requirements of interrogatory answers are that they be accurate and complete/unevasive. The most minimal response that meets those criteria is the best response. Write what is necessary to answer the question completely and then stop writing. Be succinct. Anything additional is merely fodder for cross examination at trial. While a desire to justify or explain everything seems part of many family court litigants’ personalities, there is no way effusive interrogatory answers can be helpful to the party propounding them.

Interrogatory answers never make one’s case but they can often harm it. Answers that are accurate, complete, and minimal minimize that harm.

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