How to Write a Declaration for Court
A declaration is one of the most valuable documents in a contested divorce case. It is your chance to tell the Court your side of the story: what you want, why you want it, and any concerns you may have. We have seen many cases where the Court depends on the parties’ declarations and supporting witness declarations, to form its decisions on what to issue in Temporary and later, Final Orders. Below, we’ve devoted a few tips to help you draft a successful declaration.
Determine What is “Relevant” to Your Case
First, determine what is most important to you. Is it your children? Your house? Child/spousal support? Each case is different and you may have several key items of importance that you need to address before the Court.
Second, organize your declaration. Divide your main topics under headings and specific details/events under sub-headings. Below is a general example of how your declaration should flow.
• Introduction Paragraph (date of marriage, separation, children’s names and ages, and summary of what you are asking for),
• Background Information paragraph (how things have gone since separation),
• Compelling Facts/Events (this may be several paragraphs with different main headings & sub-headings, and
• Conclusion Paragraph ( neutrally summarize what you are requesting from the Court in a few sentences)
Third, proofread & condense. Stick to your relevant topics. Your declaration is not an opportunity to air every grievance you have with your spouse- there are page limits. Avoid rambling and any collateral issues that are not central to your relevant topics.
On that note, don’t forget to check for spelling and grammatical errors! Make sure your paragraphs are divided to be no more than ½ a page to make your Declaration more visually appealing to your audience.
Know Your Audience
Once your Declaration is filed, your audience is the Court and your declaration is typically read by a Court Commissioner. Commissioners were usually once family law attorneys, who now have very busy family law dockets. However, Commissioners will only know your case from what you convey to them in your Declaration. It is important to structure your Declaration for readability and conciseness, knowing your audience is reviewing at least a hundred cases in any given week.
Know what your audience is focused on. Commissioners have keen minds to case law and our state statutes; they are not going to share your visceral emotional reactions. For instance, infidelity (although distressing) is not of legal importance to the Court as Washington is a “no fault state.” This topic only becomes important if you can trace the infidelity to financial waste.
Tell the truth. At the bottom of your declaration, the following sentence appears: “I declare under penalty of perjury of the laws of the state of Washington that the foregoing is true and correct.” You must tell the Court the truth. Keep in mind Court Commissioners have “seen it all.” If they later determine a party lied- they are less likely to believe anything asserted later on, and depending on the misrepresentation- there could be serious consequences.
Drafting a Responsive Declaration
Anticipate opposing party’s response. Once your Declaration is properly served, the opposing party will read your Declaration and refute anything that paints them in an unflattering light in their Responsive Declaration. If they have evidence supporting their position- it will come to the Court’s attention.
Advocate for yourself. No one knows your case better than you do, but you have to communicate to the Court when opposing party fabricated an issue, or when there is something else to consider. The Court cannot make rulings on issues they are not aware of. If you do not deny false allegations, they are presumed to be true. If you are drafting a responsive declaration to the opposing party’s allegations, tell the Court how they are incorrect.
Use proof to validate your case. Any evidence that collaborates “why” you are asking the Court to fulfill your requests can be persuasive. You can collect photographs and screenshots to use as Exhibits. But be aware: courts do not like sifting through pages of corresponding texts that do not prove a point, or seek to unnecessarily embarrass the opposing party. With every page of your exhibit(s) attached, ask yourself “How does this support what I wrote in my Declaration?”
Review, Review, Review.
Take a full 24 hour break before coming back to review your draft with fresh eyes. This will help you consider what issues will matter 1-2 years from now and what is truly reasonable and relevant. By taking a break to review, you are also able to edit for conciseness.
Have an attorney review and make suggestions/revisions. Truce Law attorneys litigate many family law cases similar to yours and understand the law and how Commissioners/judges will rule.