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Common law versus civil law Notaries

Most Notaries in the United States are common law ministerial officers with a strictly limited role very different from that of the attorney-like discretionary Notaries of civil law nations. But signers and the general public often misunderstand the differences — complicated by the fact that a handful of jurisdictions in the United States also commission civil law Notaries. In this article, the Legal Professionals Section compares the roles of common law and civil law Notaries.

Common law Notaries

Most U.S. states and territories commission Notaries only of the common law variety. A common law Notary is responsible for positively identifying document signers, taking signer acknowledgments, administering oaths and affirmations and executing jurats. Common law Notaries are ministerial officers, which means they have a narrowly defined role and are prohibited from drafting legal documents for others, offering advice or assisting signers in understanding document content.

Civil law Notaries

Civil law Notaries are found in many nations outside the United States, including most Latin American nations. A civil law Notary has training and duties similar to an attorney, and is authorized to prepare legal documents, authenticate transactions and advise participants in certain legal matters.

A handful of U.S. jurisdictions commission civil law Notaries. Notaries in the state of Louisiana and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have the broader authority and duties of civil law Notaries because both jurisdictions use a civil law-based legal system. Alabama and Florida commission both common law and civil law Notaries, but to become a civil law Notaries in these two states, the applicant must be a qualified attorney.

Notario Publico: Confusion and restrictions

Having a common law commission does not authorize a Notary to prepare documents or provide legal advice or assistance with immigration matters. However, many immigrants who come from civil law nations confuse the role of U.S. common law Notaries with civil law Notaries in their home countries, and mistakenly assume U.S. Notaries can provide immigration assistance. To prevent these misunderstandings, many U.S. states strictly prohibit Notaries from advertising immigration services using the Spanish term “Notario Publico” or other foreign language approximations of the term “Notary Public.” Many states also require nonattorney Notaries to post written notices in their place of business that they may not offer legal and immigration advice to anyone. Nonattorney Notaries must always familiarize themselves with their state’s laws and strictly avoid illegal advertising or offering unauthorized services.


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17 Mar 2016

Question to the knowing people: Predicated upon the fact that California has only common law notaries, all commercial contracts are void on their face for conflicts of jurisdictional civil authority. Cases in the past have dictated that civil law notaries are the only entities that can touch securities in commerce.

mike plandowski

04 Aug 2016

so when under common law property seller refuses my all cash and very much higher offer, in preference to selling for a much lower price to a pre selected buyer; ...would, under civil law, duty of bargaining in good faith, ...would I then, at least, have my offer considered, or, to be fair, myself, and next best be given a chance to resubmit offers to compete. This is an Alberta, Canada case, and I feel I have been screwed!

National Notary Association

05 Aug 2016

Hello. We're sorry, but those are legal questions we can't answer. You would need to speak to an attorney for assistance.

25 Jun 2017

Good Stuff I love reading this type of data.


23 Oct 2018

Alberta - you can do a common law “notary presentment “ admin process yourself of three letters and get money back. Canada needs common wealth common law notary badly ... all civil not for civilians


19 Nov 2020

@Christopher .. remember not to mix public with private, civil with common law.

Cheryl Pratt

02 Apr 2024

Can a lawyer sign a POA paper 2 times and also my one daughter was with me and my other daughter was on the phone and my lawyer put her name and address on the POA and notarized it

National Notary Association

03 Apr 2024

Based on what you’ve described, we think it would be best if you contacted our Hotline team by phone and provided them with a more detailed description of the situation. The NNA Hotline: 1-888-876-0827 Mon – Fri: 5:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (PT) Saturday: 5:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (PT) If you’re not an NNA Member or Hotline Subscriber, they will provide you with a one-time courtesy call.

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