A legal declaration is your written statement of the testimony you are willing to give at trial. If you have witnessed an action or have first-hand knowledge of other matters related to the case, your declaration may substitute for courtroom testimony at preliminary hearings.
In some instances, as is often the case in California Courts of Family Law, your declaration may include a list of the issues you are requesting the judge to resolve and how you want them resolved. From the court's viewpoint, a written declaration saves the court's time. For witnesses, it can save repeated courtroom appearances. When you are a plaintiff or defendant, it also gives you a chance to organize your narrative and structure your argument to make your best case.
What Goes Into Your Declaration
Your declaration identifies you, tells your story and, in many instances, makes one or more requests. Here are the primary elements of a declaration.
Your identification consists of your name, your status as either Petitioner/Plaintiff or Respondent/Defendant and an assertion that: 1) you have personal knowledge of the facts you are stating; and 2) that if you were called to testify in court, you could competently do so.
Your story is an unemotional summary of the facts relevant to the case: the details of the situation that brings you to court, including the dates the events occurred, and a concise description of each event.
Requests are for one or more actions you want the judge to take. For example, you may request that the judge resolve a child custody dispute in your favor or increase or decrease child support payments. Whatever the request, it's essential that your request is supported by your story.
Using California Form MC-30
The most frequently used Declaration Form in California is Form MC-30. You can file this form at any time once your case has been opened.
The form itself provides no specific guidance about how to structure your declaration. However, most courts provide one or more sample documents along with guidance about completing them.
After the identifying preliminaries comes the declaration statement proper. You begin by listing and summarizing any requested orders. For example, you may want modification of visiting rights or the right to take a child out of the court's jurisdiction. Each of these is a separate request and is listed separately.
Following the summaries of requested orders, list and explain each issue that has led you to request the order. Your explanation may include
- a brief background of the situation
- a description of the current situation
- an explanation of each specific problem
- your proposed solution for each problem and your reasons for proposing it
When you've finished your declaration, sign the form, which requires you "to declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California" that what you've declared is "true and correct."
The Difference Between a Declaration and an Affidavit
Declarations and Affidavits are both written documents submitted to the court, often as substitutes for more time-consuming court testimony. Both require sworn testimony. The only substantial difference between the two is that an Affidavit requires a Notary seal and signature, while a Declaration does not. In specific instances, most courts require the use of one of the two and disallow the other.
Often a judge at some later point in the proceedings will ask for more information about some aspect of your declaration. If this happens, it's important to be brief and to remain calm. Becoming emotional or diving into too many details will not help your case.