One way to write an effective affidavit is to follow the “S.O.S.” principle. That is, keep your affidavit Simple, Organized, and Short.
- Simple: Try to make your affidavit as simple as possible. Use simple words and sentences. A simple affidavit is easier for you to prepare and to present to the Court. Use ordinary language
- Organized: If your affidavit is organized, it is easier for the judge to understand what is going on. Judges like to see facts, not broad general statements. Here are some tips for being organized:
- In most cases it is best to tell what happened in chronological order (date wise). Do not jump all over the place from one time period to another. Tell your story in a straight line
- Try as much as possible to give specific dates (e.g. July 13, 2010, or, the middle of July, 2010)
- When you refer to people it is best to use their names, such as John Smith. Try to avoid using pronouns. It can get confusing
- Each page and paragraph should be numbered
- Consider putting headings in the affidavit to make it easier to organize
- Short: Keep your affidavit short. It is more effective. First, decide what is necessary to put in your affidavit. Don’t fall into the trap that more means better. Keep paragraphs and sentences short. A paragraph should be no more than 2 or 3 sentences. If your sentences are long, break them into shorter sentences
Avoid Vague or Overbroad Statements
Affidavits should avoid vague statements. The following is an example of a vague statement:
I met the defendant contractor John Smith on several occasions. I walked away from these meetings with the impression that he would not charge me for the extra paint put on the porch.
A better statement to put into the affidavit would be:
I had a meeting with the defendant contractor John Smith on April 3, 2010 at my home in the late afternoon. He specifically stated to me “I will not charge you for the extra paint on the porch.” I relied on this statement that he would not charge me for this extra paint.
Avoid overbroad or absolute statements like “always” or “never”. Absolute statements of frequency are rarely true and can undermine your credibility. For example saying “Joe never came to work on time. He was always late.” Isn’t as credible as “Joe was frequently late for work.” Even better if you can list all the days Joe was late for work or have a record of Joe’s lateness you can attach as an exhibit.
You have to indicate the specific person you are relying on for the information and belief. You also have to add a statement to the effect that you believe it to be true. For example, you would probably have to say something like:
On or about August 30, 2009 John Smith (her husband) told me that Mary Smith had not gone to work the day before and I believe this to be true.
Check for Consistency
Check to make sure your affidavit is consistent throughout. Make sure it does not say one thing in one place, and something that contradicts it in another place. Also check the affidavit for consistency with your other documents, including any other affidavits you have made.
Read It Over
Have a friend check your affidavit to make sure there are no typing errors and the language is clear. Then revisit the checklist to make sure everything has been completed.
What Is a Judge Looking for in an Affidavit?
People who are representing themselves often ask: What do judges look for in an affidavit? Judges assess credibility of an affidavit based on the following factors:
- Are there internal inconsistencies in the affidavit?
- Are statements made in the affidavit inconsistent with other statements made in other affidavits or documents outside the affidavit?
- Is the statement inherently unbelievable?
- Is there a statement of conclusion with no details to back up the statement? Remember, judges like to see facts, not broad general statements
- Are there statements in the affidavit that are evasive? In other words, does the person making the affidavit attempt to avoid an issue or statement?
- Does the person use language that one would not expect a normal person to use? Judges prefer people to use their ordinary language
- Is the second-best evidence used instead of the first source? Even if you are allowed to make an affidavit on information and belief, it may be in your interest to get the person who had the original information to swear an affidavit. This is more effective than relying on hearsay (information and belief)
- Is there a lack of precision in the affidavit? Does the person making the affidavit use imprecise dates or imprecise information?
- Are there mistakes that indicate the person making the affidavit has not read it? This would include typing and grammatical errors
- Are important facts left out? If important facts are left out, this may indicate the person making the affidavit is hiding something