A character affidavit is a document in which someone swears under oath that another person is upright and moral. People may seek this type of affidavit – or, more often, character letter – from their friends and associates in many different types of court proceedings including child custody disputes, immigration cases, prisoner sentencing, admission to the bar or adoptions.
Character Letter Versus Character Affidavit
Good character letters and affidavits serve the same purpose: they give a judge an indication of how a party to a pending case is viewed by those in her personal circle. Generally, the judge is considering a question that involves discretion, like which spouse should be given primary custody of the kids, whether a prisoner should be sentenced harshly or with leniency, or whether an immigrant should be deported for a misdemeanor.
A letter is simply a document, signed by the writer, relating her knowledge of the other person's behavior and habits. An affidavit is also a document, but it is usually set out in numbered paragraphs, and the person signs it under oath, often before a notary. That means that a letter is giving an opinion while an affiant is swearing to facts. It is never a good idea for a person to swear that a fact is true if there is any doubt in her mind of its accuracy.
Read More: What Is in a "Character Letter" for a Child Custody Court Hearing?
Reason for Good Character Affidavit
Whether the information is conveyed by letter or affidavit, the basic job of these documents is to give positive information to the judge about the character of the person whose issues are before the court. The focus of the letter should be on the traits relevant to the inquiry. For example, a character letter for child custody will describe traits that indicate good parenting practices like patience, kindness, prudence and delight in the children.
Drafting a Character Affidavit
When a person sits down to draft a character affidavit, he should start by stating who he is. He should mention where he lives and what he does for a living. Next, he should set out what his relationship is to the person he is describing, how long he has known the person and in what capacity. This gives the court some perspective on how well he might know the true character of the person.
If the affidavit is for a prisoner or someone against whom charges are pending, for example an attorney the court may disbar, the affiant should make clear that he is aware of the charges. This lets the court know that, despite the charges, the affiant remains willing to speak up for the person.
Discussing the Good Character
After these introductory paragraphs, it is time to focus on the person's character. The person writing the affidavit should mention any and all good qualities and habits the person has demonstrated. It is more persuasive if she gives several actual examples showing the quality than to simply use a series of adjectives.
Rather than just saying the person is kind, for example, she might tell the court about how the kind person brought food to a family down the street who were in need. It is better to talk about how the person found a wallet with money in it and returned it to the owner, than to just describe the person as honest.
Oath, Signature and Notary
An affidavit is a sworn statement, so it needs to include an oath swearing under penalty of perjury that everything set out is true to the best of the affiant's knowledge. Some states require that the affidavit be sworn by a notary; if that is the case, take it to a notary and get a signature and seal.
- Proofread your letter for spelling and grammatical errors. Give it to another person so you have another set of eyes to check for mistakes.
- In some cases, the court or a lawyer will provide you with a pre-printed form to use as your character affidavit. Typically, these forms have a number of questions for which you provide short answers, and often include a section for you to add additional comments.
- Avoid going overboard with your praise. You want to emphasize the recipient's positive qualities, but if your letter implies that he couldn't do any wrong, it may undermine his cause, especially in parole and sentencing situations.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.