What is a litigation hold letter and how does it affect me?

A “litigation hold letter” is a legal document that requires an individual or entity to preserve all documents, data, and information that may relate to a pending legal action that involves the person or company. Also called a “preservation order,” the purpose of this letter is to keep all relevant pieces of evidence involved in the case safe and intact. Receiving a litigation hold letter during a divorce proceeding gives you certain legal responsibilities. Here’s what you need to do.

Read the Letter Carefully

A litigation hold letter during a divorce will likely come directly after the initial filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in California. If your spouse hired an attorney, the attorney will issue this letter almost immediately. The letter may bear the title of “stop destruction request” or “preservation request.” Either way, it will notify you of the anticipation of future litigation and give written instructions you must follow. These instructions will require you to preserve all electronic data, documents, and other records that could potentially serve as evidence in the upcoming case. This information may include:

  • Texts
  • Emails
  • Computer/network activity logs
  • Digital recordings
  • Voicemails
  • Internet files
  • Computer drives
  • Paper documents
  • Medical records
  • Police reports
  • Photographs or videos

The letter will describe the scope of the litigation hold based on the facts of the case. You do not necessarily have to hold onto every digital document or scrap of paper in your possession, but you do have to take care not to destroy or get rid of documents that may serve as relevant evidence. Even if your phone or hard drive breaks, preserve it until an attorney says it’s okay to dispose of it. If in any doubt about what to keep, speak to an attorney.

Penalties for Disobeying a Litigation Hold Letter

If you delete, erase, or destroy something that the other party could have used as evidence in your divorce case, the courts might consider it “destruction of evidence.” This can expose you to certain liabilities and legal penalties. The California courts may then prohibit you from presenting certain pieces of evidence or exclude you from decision-making processes. The courts might even make you pay for the recreation of the evidence you destroyed.

Protect yourself from these risks by taking the letter seriously and getting organized. Get your home and electronic devices in order for the divorce case ahead. Figure out what potential evidence you have and how you will need to transmit it to the other party, if necessary. An attorney can help you consult with IT personnel and others to protect electronic data involved in the hold order. Keep all relevant information stored somewhere safe.

Consider responding to the hold letter. Your attorney can help you craft a letter that describes the steps you’re taking to preserve evidence and that offers to take additional measures if the other side can show there is warrant for these measures. There may be room to negotiate the terms of the letter. A family lawyer can help you navigate a divorce-related litigation hold letter in California.