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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Latin Legal Terms for Genealogists -- Part Eleven

Genealogists who do research into legal and church documents in any time period, up to and including the present, will run into a plethora of legal terms in Latin. This is especially true for countries in Europe. For this reason, I began explaining and analyzing some of the more common Latin legal terms. This is part 11 of the series. By the way, this series is not intended to comprehensive. My selection is based on 39 years of trial work. I have only selected those terms that I actually used or heard used during my years of experience.

So here we go:

pendente lite -- literally "while litigation is pending"
Usually, refers to an order entered by the judge (court) that affects the parties to a lawsuit during the time the matter is in the court process. For example, in a marital dissolution case (divorce) the judge might order custody of the children (if any) to one of the parties until the matter is completely resolved. Generally, the pendente lite orders either expire at the end of the litigation or are made permanent in the final court order or judgment. You may also see the term lis pendens used for temporary orders during the course of the litigation. The term lis pendens is usually used in real property disputes to enter an order showing that a judgment against the property, i.e. a foreclosure action, is possible and preventing the transfer of the property during the pendency of the litigation.

parens patriae -- literally "parent of the nation"
This statement is used to show that the government involved has the right to act as the parent to a child when the child's biological parents are unable or unwilling to provide support.

obiter dictum -- literally "a thing said in passing"
Some of the legal jargon, i.e. Latin phrases, used by attorneys have perfectly suitable non-Latin equivalents. As I have pointed out previously, some of these Latin phrases have become so common that it is now essentially an English word. The English word "dicta" has evolved from this phrase. This phrase is really quite vague. It is used to refer to any comments made by a judge in a written court opinion that those opposing people the opinion do not think support the conclusion or are used to extend the application of the opinion beyond what is fully supported by previously decided case law or stare decisis.

nunc pro tunc -- literally "now for then"
Without some context, even the literal meaning of this phrase does not make sense. I doubt that those who use this phrase even know what it means in English. I can't classify it as a Latin phrase that has passed into the English language because I don't think anyone outside of the legal profession would have a clue about its meaning. It is used to indicate an action taken by a judge to correct an obvious error in a judgment or a ruling and to indicate further that the change dates back to the date of the original order or judgment. The changed or corrected order is designated as issued nunc pro tunc.

nulla bona -- literally "no goods"
This is is a phrase that is now becoming very scarce simply because the people who note when a defendant who has an adverse judgment has no tangible property that can be seized to pay the judgment do not know any Latin phrases. It means that the sheriff or constable could not find any property.

I realize that I am only giving five definitions lately, but there is a lot to write about and I do get pressed for time. I did want to keep this particular series going however.

Here are the previous posts in this series.


  1. Nunc pro tunc is a term that was used often in Immigration and Naturalization Service records (and still is in USCIS records) in reference to the creation of an alien entry record after the fact, typically because one was not created when the person entered the United States. An example being a stowaway on a ship and thus never was listed as a passenger or crewman on the ship of arrival, or a person who crossed into the United States from Canada or Mexico somewhere other than a port of entry.

    1. Thanks, that helps. I am afraid that I would never notice something like that because I don't think of the terms as strange or foreign.