A petition is the initial document filed in a civil case that officially opens the case and asks the court for relief. The petition must contain the names of the parties to the action and explain to the judge what the plaintiff -- the person filing the petition -- is asking the court to do. The general format of a petition will be the same regardless of the subject matter of the legal issues involved.
Caption the document with the name of the court where you intend to file the petition and the names of the parties to the case. Leave a blank for the case or cause number that will be assigned by the clerk. You are the plaintiff and the opposing party is the defendant or respondent.
Title the document. The title will depend on the purpose of the petition. Common examples of petition titles include "Petition for Divorce," "Petition for Adoption," "Petition for Child Support" and "Petition for Name Change".
Include in the body of the petition a brief summary of the facts related to the case and a statement telling the court what you are asking for by way of the petition. For example, you may ask the court to grant you a divorce or to change your name.
Sign and date the petition. Make at least two copies of the petition.
File the original document with the clerk of court and pay any required filing fee. Ask the clerk to file-stamp your remaining copies.
Serve the defendant/respondent with a copy of the petition. State laws regarding service of process vary. You may need to pay a process server or a sheriff to serve the petition or you may be able to serve it yourself.
Renee Booker has been writing professionally since 2009 and was a practicing attorney for almost 10 years. She has had work published on Gadling, AOL's travel site. Booker holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law.