parens patriae

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Parens Patriae

[Latin, Parent of the country.] A doctrine that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf.

The parens patriae doctrine has its roots in English Common Law. In feudal times various obligations and powers, collectively referred to as the "royal prerogative," were reserved to the king. The king exercised these functions in his role of father of the country.

In the United States, the parens patriae doctrine has had its greatest application in the treatment of children, mentally ill persons, and other individuals who are legally incompetent to manage their affairs. The state is the supreme guardian of all children within its jurisdiction, and state courts have the inherent power to intervene to protect the best interests of children whose welfare is jeopardized by controversies between parents. This inherent power is generally supplemented by legislative acts that define the scope of child protection in a state.

The state, acting as parens patriae, can make decisions regarding mental health treatment on behalf of one who is mentally incompetent to make the decision on his or her own behalf, but the extent of the state's intrusion is limited to reasonable and necessary treatment.

The doctrine of parens patriae has been expanded in the United States to permit the attorney general of a state to commence litigation for the benefit of state residents for federal antitrust violations (15 U.S.C.A. § 15c). This authority is intended to further the public trust, safeguard the general and economic welfare of a state's residents, protect residents from illegal practices, and assure that the benefits of federal law are not denied to the general population.

States may also invoke parens patriae to protect interests such as the health, comfort, and welfare of the people, interstate Water Rights, and the general economy of the state. For a state to have standing to sue under the doctrine, it must be more than a nominal party without a real interest of its own and must articulate an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties.


Antitrust Law; Child Abuse; Children's Rights; Infants.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

parens patriae

(paa-wrens pat-tree-eye) n. Latin for "father of his country," the term for the doctrine that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability, especially children, whose care is only "entrusted" to their parents. Under this doctrine, in a divorce action or a guardianship application the court retains jurisdiction until the child is 18 years old, and a judge may change custody, child support or other rulings affecting the child's well-being, no matter what the parents may have agreed or the court previously decided. (See: divorce, custody, child support, guardian, ward)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

parens patriae

the jurisdiction of the court to assume responsibility for the welfare of those otherwise unprovided for, such as children or lunatics, regardless of whether there is statutory power.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
References in periodicals archive ?
While the Court has not had the opportunity to rule on whether a state acting as parens patriae satisfies the second inquiry under the anti-commandeering doctrine, this Note argues that it would satisfy the inquiry here.
In that field it is the United States, and not the State, which represents them as parens patriae, when such representation becomes appropriate; and to the former, and not the latter, they must look for such protective measures as flow from that status.
lacks parens patriae standing to challenge the constitutionality of
well." (161) Indeed, all of the parens patriae adjudications
(126.) State parens patriae litigation may be an exception to this,
A doctrine granting an inherent power and authority to states, states often invoke parens patriae to protect the health and welfare of its people.
Guardianship stems from the power of the state to act to protect the well-being of its citizens when they cannot care for themselves, also known as the "parens patriae" power.
"The power under which Child Protective Services must act to protect a child is the parens patriae power--a legal term of art empowering the 'State' to ensure the care of all children within its borders when their parents aren't able to care for them.
Moreover, the same police and parens patriae powers at the heart of Holmes' 8-1 majority opinion form the bedrock of, and continue to be cited by, courts in support of authority for modern public health agencies to protect us from a seemingly constant barrage of natural and manmade potential perils to our well-being.
State of New Hampshire (February 19, 2016), the International Association of Defense Counsel filed a brief in support of petitioner ExxonMobil Corporation that parens patriae should incorporate the same procedural and substantive safeguards as private class actions.