The ancient Roman legal system still has a big influence on contemporary law practice, at least as far as language is concerned. That's why you are likely to hear legal terms or phrases being bandied around in Latin. However, you don't have to be a language guru to know what these two Latin phrases mean in the context of family law:
According to Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary, parens patriae is a Latin phrase that literally means "parent of his or her country". Figuratively, it means the inherent authority of a country to be a guardian for those who cannot fend for themselves. Examples of those who cannot fend for themselves include minors, very old seniors and the mentally disabled.
In the context of family law, parens patriae means that the state can issue, modify or cancel orders relating to a child's well-being. For example, the court has the authority to modify child support directives regardless of what the legal parents of the child may have agreed to. The overriding matter, in this case, is the well-being of the child in question.
The significance of this doctrine is that if you make an agreement (with your former partner) that jeopardizes the child's well-being, then the court may step in and overturn your agreement. For example, if a person divorces and agrees to give their physically abusive partner sole custody of the child, then the court may step in and nullify the accord. The state may even deny both custody of the child and place him or her at a suitable home--for example, a foster home.
Ad litem is Latin for "for the suit", which means for the purposes of the lawsuit. The family law term, guardian ad litem, therefore, means guardian for the purpose of a lawsuit. Such a guardian is chosen to represent somebody who is legally incapable of representing himself or herself. For example, a mentally handicapped person or a child cannot be expected to prosecute or defend his or her suits.
For example, if you are involved in an acrimonious battle for your child's custody, then you may be too focused on winning and lose sight of the big picture – the child's well being. Therefore, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the young one's interests. A child's guardian ad litem is usually (but not always) a parent (if he or she isn't involved in the lawsuit), a close relative or an attorney.
The good news is that when it comes to your dealings with the law, plain old English will be sufficient. Besides, once you have a family lawyer representing you, you don't have to worry about any legal mumbo-jumbo. For more information, contact a business such as Bahan Law LLC.Share