What are common Latin legal terms used in divorce and family law?

What are common Latin legal terms used in divorce and family law? While the use of Latin terms and phrases in the family law is decreasing, there are still many that are not only used but used routinely. Knowing their meaning and the context in which they are used will help you better understand the legal process. These terms are based primarily upon definitions from Black’s Law Dictionary.

BONA FIDE. This means made or done in good faith; without fraud or deceit. Sincere; genuine.

DE JURE. This means “as a matter of law”. Existing by right or according to law. This is as opposed to “de facto.” DE FACTO means actually existing in fact, having effect even though not formally or legally recognized. Illegitimate but in effect, such as “a de facto custody arrangement.”

DE NOVO HEARING OR HEARING DE NOVO. “De novo” means “new” or “again”. A hearing de novo is a reviewing court’s decision of a matter anew, giving no deference to a lower court’s findings or decision. A new hearing of a matter, conducted as if the original hearing had not taken place.

ET AL. This means “and others”. Most frequently will see the use of “et al.” On the first page of a complaint or petition filed with the court when there are multiple plaintiffs or multiple defendants. Rather than listing every single one of them, sometimes an attorney or a party will name the first few parties and then write “et al.” to indicate that there are more parties than are identified specifically on the page.

EX PARTE, Ex parte motions and hearings and orders arise when a party seeks relief from a court without providing notice to or permitting argument from the opposing party. Ex parte proceedings are extraordinary and generally discouraged but for exceptional situations, emergencies, situations where the need for judicial intervention is deemed to outweigh the need for conventional due process and notice.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM. An independent party, usually a lawyer, appointed in family law disputes to represent parties that cannot represent themselves, such as minors.

IN CAMERA. This is Latin for “in the judge’s chambers.” A judge’s chambers means the judge’s office, not the judge’s courtroom. Judges will occasionally hold informal discussions or reviews in their office. Often times these in camera activities take place off the record, but not necessarily.

IN FORMA PAUPERIS. This is a policy courts have that permits a court to waive certain costs and filing fees for a poor litigant (“pauperis” relates the word “pauper” which means “a poor person”).

IN RE. In re, spelled “i-n- space re” means “in the matter of.” You will often see this used in juvenile court cases, such as “In re B.T.B.” where the use of initials is for the protection of the child’s identity from public knowledge.

MOTION IN LIMINE. A pretrial request that certain inadmissible evidence not be referred to or offered at trial. Typically, a party makes this motion when it believes that mere mention of the evidence during trial would be highly prejudicial and could not be remedied by an instruction to disregard. Obviously, a motion in limine is not all that useful when the case is being tried to the judge and not to a jury.

PENDENTE LITE. Pendente lite. While the litigation is pending, Also known as simply “temporary orders.” Court orders pendente lite are temporary until the final judgement is rendered. Commonly used in divorce proceedings for determining where the children live, how often they spend time with each parent, who pays marital debts and obligations while the case is pending and before the final decree of divorce is entered by the judge.

PRIMA FACIE. This means sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted; based on what seems to be true on first examination, even though it may later be proved to be untrue. Many legal claims require the party making the claim to make a prima facie showing or risk having the claim dismissed.

PRO BONO or PRO BONO PUBLICO. This literally means for the public good. When attorneys provide services pro bono, that means they do so at no cost or for a reduced fee. Pro bono services are usually reserved for the indigent people or for charitable causes.

PRO SE. This means “for oneself; on one’s own behalf; without a lawyer.” When a party proceeds in a law suit pro se that means that he or she is doing so without being represented by a lawyer in the case.

RES JUDICATA. This means “a matter judged.” A matter that has been finally adjudicated, meaning no further appeals or legal actions by the involved parties is now possible.

STARE DECISIS. This means “to stand by things decided.” Stare decisis is the obligation of a judge to stand by a precedent. A precedent is a decision by an appellate court that is binding upon lower courts. Lower courts are trial courts. Precedents are law that did not come about by a legislature creating a statute. Precedents are caselaw. Caselaw arises from an appellate court. Appellate courts are courts that hear appeals from trial court decisions, such as the Utah Court of Appeals or the Utah Supreme Court. These decisions of these appellate case that establishes a principle or rule that is binding upon the trial courts in the future in cases involving similar issues or facts. The use of precedent provides predictability, stability, fairness, and efficiency in the law.

SUA SPONTE. This means “of one’s own accord; voluntarily”. When a court acts sua sponte, that means the court took an action in a case without a request from either party, and instead acted on its own.

SUBPOENA. The literal meaning of subpoena means “under penalty.” A subpoena is a writ issued by a court or under the authority of the court that compels the person to whom it is addressed to provide testimony, evidence, or some to take some other action, and provides penalty for failure to do so. One can be subpoenaed to testify in court or at a deposition. If one is served with what is known as a subpoena duces tecum, that means he or she has been compelled to bring with him or her physical evidence, typically documents or records to be questioned about them.

WRIT OF ASSISTANCE. A writ of assistance is a court’s order directing that another order of the court previously issued be enforced. Family law, when a party is refusing to comply with the court’s orders, particularly with regard to the exercise of child custody or parent time and visitation, the aggrieved party can request that the court issue a writ of assistance to help that party enforce the court’s orders.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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