A pleading is a general term for a document asking a court to make a formal decision. It may also be a response to another party's legal document. For example, a petition for divorce and a counterclaim for damages in a civil lawsuit are both pleadings. Each court system has its own specific rules for how to format pleadings. Although there are some consistent elements among courts, you will need to verify your court's rules before formatting a pleading.
General Elements of a Pleading
All pleadings will have several similar elements. For example, each pleading should have a caption at the top. This is a block that contains the names of the parties to the case, the name of the court hearing the case, the case or docket number and the title of the document. Likewise, the party submitting the pleading or her attorney must sign the document. In most instances, the pleading will also need a certificate of service. This is a signed and dated paragraph at the end of the document attesting that you sent this pleading to all other parties to the case or to their lawyers. This certificate of service should specify how the document was delivered and on what date it was sent.
Forms and Model Pleadings
The specifics for formatting the document depend not only on the court in which you are filing your pleading, but also on the type of pleading. Generally, state statutes provide model pleadings that you can use as a guide for formatting your document. Likewise, some courts develop forms that you can fill in and file as pleadings. These courts, including some in the state of Washington, require you to use these forms instead of creating pleadings from scratch. Generally, the clerk of the court can provide you with the required forms or direct you to sample pleadings to use as a formatting reference.
Formatting in State Courts
State court formatting requirements can vary significantly. Some court systems simply provide general guidelines on how to format a document, such as requiring 1-inch margins and a page number on each sheet of the pleading. Other courts, including those in the state of California, have more specific rules, such as requiring a pleading to contain a blank space for court clerk use in the center right of the first page of the document.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern all cases heard in federal courts, contain specific guidelines for formatting pleadings. Specifically, Rule 10 of the FRCP specifies that all pleadings must list the court file number, the names of the parties to the case and contain a title. Further, federal pleadings should list statements and defenses in numbered paragraphs.