I just received a motion from my spouse which begins:

NOW COMES Petitioner, XYZ, by and through her attorney, ABC, and Petitions this Court to Enter an Order directing the parties to...

I have two questions:

  1. Why the highly formalized language of "Now comes..."?
  2. Why the seemingly random capitalization?

Is there any deeper meaning to this for the courts? This is a state court system Circuit Court in the US handling Domestic Relations

  • 1
    What you mean to say is that this is a state court system Circuit court in the United States, which is a general jurisdiction court that can handle divorces. A U.S. Circuit Court is a federal appellate court above U.S. District Courts and below the U.S. Supreme Court. It is not a trial court and does not have divorce jurisdiction. – ohwilleke Jan 19 '19 at 0:47

Why the highly formalized language of "Now comes..."?

"NOW COMES" is traditional ("Comes Now" is actually more common even though it is even more formal and awkward), a bit like "WHEREAS" in contracts.

Modern legal writing disfavors this wording in the first sentence of a legal document and I usually omit it unless I know that the judge is very old fashioned.

These days, when a lawyer is in front of a court in person, the lawyers starts to speak about something by saying "May it please the court" (another traditional phase emphasizing deference to the fact that the judge can throw you in jail if you are rude without a trial in a courtroom).

But, people used to say, "NOW COMES" instead and that phrase stuck in written form.

Why the seemingly random capitalization?

The capitalization is not completely correct in your example. Some people have the bad habit of capitalizing every word that they think is important, which is not proper in English. (For what it is worth, in German, all nouns are capitalized.)

Petitioner should be capitalized because it is being used as a proper noun in lieu of someone's name.

Court should be capitalized here because the rule is that the word Court is capitalized when you are talking about the court that you are in, but in lower case when you are talking about another court's rulings.

Enter was improperly capitalized.

Petitions is improperly capitalized.

(In general, probably as a residual of the fact that English is a Germanic language, verbs are almost never capitalized unless they are defined terms or are the first word in a sentence.)

Order is capitalized when it refers to a particular order that already exists, but should be in lower case here when it is referring to an order that is being requested in the future.


"Now comes" is a bit of history, dating back to when litigants personally appeared before a feudal lord, or a little later before a judge, and made their cases one at a time. " by and through her attorney," is slightly later history, a remnant of the period when lawyers were a bit unusual in such courts, and it was worth noting then a person "appeared" via a lawyer rather than in person. I don't know that these have much value now, but they seem to me to do no harm.

The capital letters I know of no reason for.

Legal documents have always tended to be very conservative in style and language, imitating models from the past and not making any change that could be avoided. English courts recorded their proceedings in French up to around 1500 as I recall, and he statute enacting that English be used in future was itself written in French. (That was so-called "Law French", rather more changed from the original than Church Latin is from that of Julius Caesar.) Phrases become fossilized.

Still I think there is some value in formality, within reason. Legal documents are important things, even vital in many cases. They should be carefully drafted, not casually. But jargon for the sake of it is not of value, as I see it.

  • "Law French" is more commonly called "Norman French". It was originally the dialect of William the Bastard, so naturally became the language of the royal court of England, and hence the courts. I don't know how much it had changed from the original, but it would always have been very different from Parisian French. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 19 '19 at 16:45
  • 2
    "Law French" started as Norman French, but changed significantly, particularly after the royal court ceased to use it, while the law courts kept it, as did Parliament for some purposes. Later Law French was a mix of Norman, Latin, and English. See Charles Rembar's The Law of the Land for more on this. – David Siegel Jan 19 '19 at 22:04

I recommend looking at the book or even just the writer's website: Typography for Lawyers, by Matthew Butterick. Interesting, and, if you are a practicing attorney, essential.

Some of the formatting -- like seeming random ALL CAPS -- is because the judiciary in each state, and the federal judiciary, issues rules of procedure. And each court issues its own set of local rules implementing or supplementing those rules of civil procedure. Finally, substantially all judges have their own published rules of individual practice or mandatory guidelines for practicing before them.

At various times any one of the above sets of rules requires lawyers to comply with specified formatting requirements. When the formatting requirement is statewide or nationwide for Federal Courts, then even when that formatting rule is abolished, there often is lag time for judges to catch up in terms of their personal preferences.

Attorneys want the judge to read at least a paragraph of their filing. The document should invite the judge to read it, including by catering to her preferred formatting quirks.

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