Family Law: Drafting Effective Court Declaration
Whether you are representing yourself in a family law matter, or whether you are represented by an attorney, the time will probably come when you will need to collect statements from witnesses on your behalf to be filed in court. Usually, these statements, either declarations under penalty of perjury or notarized affidavits (they have equivalent legal effect) are filed in support of a motion that you will make to obtain some sort of temporary order in your case, whether it is a dissolution or a modification, a parentage action or a legal separation.
Therefore, it is pretty likely that you will be out there asking your friends to make statements on your behalf. When you do so, there are two main concepts you need to keep in mind: what are the formal requirements that must be satisfied to make a court declaration under penalty of perjury acceptable to the court, and what makes a court declaration effective?
Formal Requirements for a Valid Court Declaration
- The person writing the declaration (the “declarant”) must be over eighteen. Do not ask the minor children involved in family law cases to write declarations!
- The statement must be neatly printed or typed. The commissioners will not read illegible handwriting. If possible, a typed transcript of a handwritten declaration should be prepared.
- The statement must contain the case name and case number (a “caption”) at the top of the first page.
- At the end of the declaration, the following language must appear: “I declare under penalty of perjury of the laws of the state of Washington that the foregoing is true and correct.”
- In addition, the declarant must indicate the date that the statement was signed, as well as the city and state where the declaration was signed.
- The declarant must sign the statement.
The family law mandatory forms prepared by the Office of the Administrator for the Courts in Washington state contain a blank declaration form that, while it is not mandatory for use in family law cases, makes it easy to satisfy all the formal requirements. The form number is WPF DR 09.0100.
Substantive Suggestions for an Effective Court Declaration
- State your relationship to the parties.
- Get to the point.
- Don’t repeat the same material over and over again.
- Put headings on the declaration’s main ideas.
- Avoid rambling sentences and collateral issues that are not central to the arguments in the case.
- Be concise.
- Construct declarations so that the important facts immediately leap out.
- Make sure that the declarant is describing matters which are of his or her direct personal knowledge or observation.
- Statements made by the other side that are not denied, are assumed to be true.
- Use paragraph headings to identify topics being discussed.