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How to write a character reference letter for a court hearing

Updated February 21, 2017

Character reference letters are usually requested by a lawyer to help a client's case. A good character reference can help in a child custody hearing or help reduce or throw out a sentencing for a crime. On the flip side, lawyers may sometimes ask for negative character reference letters to keep a parent from gaining custody or for increasing a criminal's sentence. In both circumstances, it is important that the reference letter not follow a template, because the judge will notice if form letters are used. Detailed, original letters will be given the most serious consideration.

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  1. Align the letter to the left side and leave a space between each of the following typed sections: sender's address, date, recipient's address, salutation, body of the letter, closing, and signature. Address the letter to the judge or official the lawyer has provided or simply write, "To Whom It May Concern."

  2. State who requested the character reference, which person the letter is in regards to, how long you knew the person in question, what type of relationship you have or had with that person, and how you met. It's helpful to imagine yourself on the witness box with a lawyer trying to establish if you're a credible witness. The first paragraph might resemble this: "Mr. Macey asked me to write a character reference on behalf of my best friend, Julia Mayberry. I've known Julia for 23 years and met her while in grade school. After school, we roomed in college and still meet for a weekend vacation once a year."

  3. Use examples and details in describing what type of character, morals and behaviour you have witnessed in the person. Never include anything that wasn't personally witnessed. Keep the letter strictly positive, or in the case of a negative letter, strictly negative. Include specific stories that correlate with the court hearing's topic. Such as: "I've witnessed Julia Mayberry love her children unconditionally. She always uses a calm voice when they are in trouble and believes in disciplining with the love-and-logic philosophy. On our annual weekend away from our families, she always and consistently checks in with her children twice a day. I believe her to be an excellent mother and worthy of full custody."

  4. Type and sign your name at the end of the letter.

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About the Author

Heather Woodlief started writing professionally in 1998. Her published works have been featured in "Family Fun" magazine, "Fit Pregnancy," "Cat's Magazine," "Children's Ministry" magazine and "iParenting."

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