When a decision is made to go to court, individuals are required to file legal documents that tell the court what the dispute is and what is being asked for. This results in both sides of a court case having to file more documents, thus giving the court the information it needs to make a decision. Having the written documents that are filed are a crucial part of any case. Without them, there would be no case in court.
Many states and their respective courts have libraries of standard court forms (often referred to as Judicial Forms) that are required for court cases. Some may have to be picked up at the court, while others may be available online.
When it comes to these forms and papers, it is important to understand two terms:
- Forms that are adopted must be used (mandatory)
- Forms that are approved may be used, but individuals can use a different form or just write up the information without using a form.
An advantage of court forms is that they often include instructions for completing them. It is highly recommended that the instructions are followed closely.
When you are reviewing a court form, there are common elements that you will find on the form…many which can be very helpful and provide direction for legal research.
Some common elements found on forms include:
- Form numbers
- Whether it is adopted or approved
- State family law codes
Another type of document that you may experience or have to prepare is a pleading.
When there is no court/judicial form available for your intended action, you will need to create your own legal document. As with other pleadings, there are formats and rules that must
Tips for completing court forms
1. Always be sure that you have the most current version of the form. The forms should contain a date, which is most often the date it was last updated. If you are unsure whether it is the current form, ask the court clerk.
2. Be sure that the forms are clear and easy to read. If the form is available and can be completed online, it is a good idea to utilize this option. If the form must be completed by hand, use blue or black ink, or if possible, use a typewriter.
3. Forms tend to have specific information that will be necessary, thus it is important to have the information available. Such information includes:
- Names and addresses (and often the phone number of the individual completing the form)
- The names of the parties involved in the action (Plaintiff, Defendant)
- The court’s name and address
- The case number
4. Individuals representing themselves should write Self-Represented, In Pro Persona, or Pro Se on the Attorney For line.
5. Be sure to fill out the forms completely and accurately. If something doesn’t apply, write N/A (which means that it doesn’t apply).
6. When a signature is required, be sure to sign it where requested. Use blue or black ink only. It is important to also note that some forms may include that “you acknowledge that you are signing it under penalty of perjury” which means that when you sign it…you are swearing that what is on the form is true and correct to the best of your knowledge.
7. Take your time when completing the form and complete it in the order it is presented (don’t skip around). You can always come back to a question if you don’t understand it.
8. If the court has self-help services…take advantage of them to ensure you are completing the correct forms the correct way. Legal actions are stressful enough without encountering unnecessary stress in court due to missed or incomplete documents.
9. Make copies of your documents and keep them in a safe place. The number of copies will vary, so be sure to identify how many copies you will need (e.g., one copy for you, two copies for the court, one copy for service, etc.).
10. Organize all of your documents and forms in a folder and bring them with you when you go to the court, clerk’s office, the court’s self-help center, or if you go to see a lawyer.
Filing divorce documents and forms
Documentation is a critical part while filing for divorce. Having a clear understanding of the following can make the process run much smoother:
1. What documents must be filed.
2. When documents must be filed.
3. The number of copies and format of the documents that must be filed.
4. How documents or divorce application can be filed.
As with the other areas of law, processes and procedures may vary from court to court, thus it is important to review your court’s rules for filing.
Many courts have services for individuals seeking to represent themselves in court. Others may also provide online “Self-Help” tools and resources to assist with rules, processes, documents and forms. If you choose to represent yourself (without consulting a family lawyer), it is highly recommended to take advantage of these services if they exist.