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  • Ian

Vertical list solves all

Dissecting a statute can be fun, if you know what to look for. What are the inconsistencies in the wording? How can slight improvements make the statute clearer and more accurate? And why is there no vertical list?

An example

The following statute seems simple enough:

(c) A minor may seek a restraining order if the minor demonstrates that the minor is emancipated and the court finds that the order is in the best interests of the emancipated minor. A minor demonstrates the minor is emancipated by a showing that the minor is living separate and apart from parents and managing the minor's own financial affairs, and shows, through an instrument in writing or other agreement, or by the conduct of the parties that all parents who have a legal parent and child relationship with the minor have relinquished control and authority over the minor.

But once you break it down into vertical lists, inconsistencies arise:

  • What is the difference between separate and apart?

  • If an agreement is in writing, does "other agreement" simply mean verbal?

  • Is there a difference between control and authority?

And if you stumbled a bit reading the statute, it's probably because of an unparallel construction and a missing comma.

A revision

Here's a quick revision:

(c) A minor may seek a restraining order if:

(1) they demonstrate that they are emancipated; and

(2) the court finds that the order is in the minor’s best interests.

(d) A minor is emancipated if they show:

(1) that they are managing their finances and living separately from their parents; and

(2) that anyone with legal authority over them has relinquished it.

(e) Paragraph (d), clause (2), must be demonstrated by a written instrument, other agreement, or the parties’ conduct.

By using vertical lists, you start to notice the inconsistencies and other issues, which you can then take to the author to discern their intent.

Other changes

Some other basic drafting improvements:

  • Use they to refer to the singular minor. This change introduces pronouns and makes the statute flow better without the repetitious "minor this" and "minor that"

  • Add the missing comma

  • Make the unparallel construction parallel (hint: a showing and shows)

  • Use a possessive

  • Replace a prepositional phrase with an adjective

  • Prune clutter by taking out redundancies.

Judge for yourself, and then commit to using vertical lists in your legal drafting.

Chapter 82 rewrite
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