A declaration for a family law hearing is not a novel, even though some read as if they were.1 The King County family law commissioners are given stacks of paperwork to read for the hearings that are scheduled every weekday in Seattle and Kent. The stack can be anywhere from a few inches to over two feet high for one calendar. How can you make sure that the commissioner understands your materials and is more likely to rule in your client's favor when only five minutes per side are allowed for oral argument?
The declaration has to be factual, clear, persuasive, as succinct as possible, and comply with specific court rules. The court rules are very simple requirements, but are often not followed.
Under King County Family Law Rule 6, a declaration must be legible, double-spaced, 12-pont font or larger, and no more than 25 pages for the moving party and 20 pages for the responding party. These page limits apply to all hearings except domestic violence. (Domestic violence protection order hearings under RCW ch. 26.50 and ER 1101 have their own requirements and rules and are not discussed here.)
Be sure to count all pages of your client's declaration, as well as those of friends and neighbors. Because of the volume of reading materials, if more pages are submitted, the commissioner can stop reading at any time, sanctions can be imposed, and attorney fees granted.
The first rule for the substantive part of a declaration for a family law hearing: Tell the court what you want and why. Describe who the parties are, how many children are involved and the ages of the children. It is common sense that infants have different residential schedules than a 16-year-old who drives her own car. The commissioner does not know how old the children are unless the declaration spells it out.
Remember that declarations are the only way the client has to communicate information to the court. The declaration should state specifically what result the client wants and why the court should rule in their favor. It may be easiest to organize the declaration by topic so the court knows where to look for the information on each issue.
Do not submit any information in the declaration that should be filed under seal. It is advisable to write two declarations for your client and file one under seal if there are issues with sex abuse, medical issues, sex addiction, drug addiction or other information that is required to be sealed by the court. Commissioners have no authority to seal documents so do not ask them to do so.
Plus the court does not allow declarations to be withdrawn once they are filed and there is really no way to seal parts of a declaration once it is filed. It is better to be safe than sorry and to file one declaration under seal and just refer to it in the unsealed declaration. Page limits still apply, but your client will feel better knowing their medical history or sexual addiction treatment issues are not public record.
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