Thanks for asking!
Let me, please, break this Answer into five parts:
As to format:
The people at Job Search have a very nice letter writing site that I
you will find helpful.
Specifically, you might want to look at their letters of
recommendation to get a couple of good ideas as to the flow of the
letter for your friend.
A couple of other format sites:
>From Purdue University:
>From Colorado State University:
Be aware of who you are writing to:
Most of the advice links above are advising to speak clearly to the
addressee - but here, who is that? The judge? A "friend of the
court"? The attorney representing your friend who will include the
letter in a pleading to the court?
When in doubt, addressing the letter to the judge who is the decision
maker and is, ultimately, the person you hope is going to review your
comments. Even if the letter is reviewed by others on the staff of the
court, addressing it to the judge is a safe bet.
How to address a judge:
One example of a formal letter to a judge that appears to be well
crafted (though on another topic) can be found at:
That format would look like:
Honorable John Doe
Acme County Circuit Court [or whatever the formal court name is]
Acme County Courthouse
402 East State Street
Anytown, NJ 08608
Re: Jones v. Jones, Case No. 99-ABCDEF-GH
Dear Judge Doe:
[body of the letter]
What to address in your letter:
Although every state is different in some regard, the factors to be
considered by the court may be firmly established, either by the
legislature or by that state's supreme court. In Michigan, for
example, there are the "twelve factors" which were established by our
legislature. Addressing the most important of these factors might be
an effective approach and helpful to the court, specifically those
factors that the other side believes to be their strongest (and where
your friend may need the most help). Anyway, the Michigan factors are:
1. The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the
parties involved and the child;
2. The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the
child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and
raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any;
3. The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide
the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care
recognized and permitted under the laws of the state in place of
medical care, and other material needs;
4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory
environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
5. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed
custodial home or homes;
6. The moral fitness of the parties involved;
7. The mental and physical health of the parties involved;
8. The home, school, and community record of the child;
9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the
child to be of sufficient age to express preference;
10. The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate
and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between
the child and the other parent or the child and the parents;
11. Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was
directed against or witnessed by the child;
12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a
particular child custody dispute.
Michigan Compiled Laws section 722.23.
NOW THIS IS A LOT!! Obviously too much to address in one letter - and
besides, it is a rare person that can realistically address all of
these issues. Perhaps addressing the three or four that you are best
able to discuss; or addressing those which your friend needs the most
support or help on.
Perhaps a two pronged approach would be helpful: write a page to a
page and a half to the judge addressing the most important topics, and
write a longer letter to your friend's attorney - your perspective as
to the important issues might be very helpful to help the attorney
frame his/her argument.
See the good comments by the American Psychologigal Association:
I hope that you find this helpful. Again, your friend is lucky to have
someone go to bat. That is nice. Divorces, and the almost inevitable
custody battles are extraordinarily difficult.
Best of luck,
Clarification of Answer by
20 May 2002 09:53 PDT
Thanks, Ben, for asking for clarification.
I merely included the business letter sites as being illustrative of
formats for letters of recommendation, which, as I understand it, is
essentially what you are writing. The letter to the judge is merely to
show format and tone; the tone should be very formal, should not "beat
around the bush" and should state your views unequivocally.
I am an attorney in Michigan, and these letters indeed are a
relatively common thing, at least in the divorces that I have handled.
But I have seen them be useful, and seen them discarded or ignored. To
be useful, the question is "what to include?" In the Michigan courts,
the ONLY thing the judge can use in making a custodial determination
is a weighing of the twelve factors.
Any letter, at least in this state, to be effective, must then address
one or more of the factors. Anything else is superfluous. Indeed, a
"standard form" puff letter will almost never be used by the judge in
making any determination.
I believe, strongly, that to be effective, a writer should take one or
two of the twelve factors which your friend's opponent is using
against her, and come to her defense, if possible. If you don't know,
then focus on those factors that you are most familiar -
School/Church: See #2, etc.
Thanks again for requesting clarification, and if you would like to
shoot another question back, please feel free. This is a very
interesting, though very difficult, area to me.