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Representing Yourself: Don't Worry If You Are Not a Good Writer

Updated: Mar 14

Most family law attorneys are generally not good writers. The writing I have seen in family law filings is often horrible. But the reality is that they would probably not be more successful attorneys if they wrote better. It just doesn't make that much difference. The judges are used to poor writing.

If you cannot afford a lawyer and have to represent yourself, you may be required to file a written document with your paperwork. Most likely the only document you will be asked to file will be a declaration. This is a written statement from you, that you swear under penalty of perjury is the truth. You make this statement only about information you have direct knowledge of. The court will consider these statements the same as if you had testified in court. I have included a blank template on the FORMS page to follow that includes the information you are legally required to include.

If you are writing a declaration here are some things for you to keep in mind:

  • Speak positively about yourself, rather than negatively about your spouse. "I want to see my children" is better than "she won’t let me see the kids."

  • Organize your thoughts so the judge can understand what you want.

  • Be honest, straightforward and do not include anything unnecessary. The judge knows what the case is about, he has read your file. You are giving him additional information that will help your case.

As to the format:

  1. You need to use pleading paper. This is paper with the lines numbered (1-28). The blank declaration available in FORMS has numbered lines.

  2. Use a readable font. Do not use Times New Roman. This font was created for newspapers and was useful because you could fit more words in a line. It was not good for readability. Use a font that is better to read. The New York Times uses Georgia online. The Supreme Court uses Century. You can also use Bookman Old Style, or any of the Baskervilles or Palatinos.

  3. Use wide margins. Pleading paper has vertical lines on the side. Keep space between your writing and those lines. One-inch margins are too small. Some go as far as 1.5 inches. Anything in between those two is fine.

  4. Don’t capitalize long sentences. It is very hard to read all caps.

  5. It is better if you can number paragraphs, but not necessary

If you don’t follow these guidelines, it probably won’t make a big difference. Many local family law attorneys do not follow these guidelines. Their writing is often sloppy and poorly organized. Most use a font like Times New Roman, have narrow margins and capitalize long sentences. They started doing this in law school and never changed. They probably never will.

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