De facto

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De facto is a Latin expression that means "in fact" or "in practice" but not spelled out by law. It is commonly used in contrast to de jure (which means "by law") when referring to matters of law, governance, or technique (such as standards), that are found in the common experience as created or developed without or against a regulation. When discussing a legal situation, de jure designates lawfully what the law says, while de facto designates action of what happens in practice.

The term de facto may also be used when there is no relevant law or standard, but a common practice is well established, although perhaps not quite universal.



A de facto standard is a technical or other standard that is so dominant that everybody seems to follow it like an authorized standard. The de jure standard may be different: one example is the act of speeding found on highways. Although the de jure standard is to drive at the speed limit or slower, in many places the de facto standard is to drive at the speed limit or slightly faster.

Another example: there is no law preventing a 27th letter such as Þ (thorn) from being added to the standard 26-letter Latin alphabet used for modern English; indeed, letters were added centuries ago without much difficulty. But today one is prevented from doing so by the practical difficulties involved, and thus there is a de facto limit on modifications to the alphabet; it is impractical to add such a letter as no one will recognize it.

A de facto standard is sometimes not formalized and may simply rely on the fact that someone has come up with a good idea that is liked so much that it is copied. Typical creators of de facto standards are individual companies, corporations, and consortia. In computing, de facto standards can sometimes become de jure standards due to their share of the relevant market. For example, JavaScript by Netscape was standardized as ECMAScript and parts of DOM Level 0 became standardized in DOM Level 1/2 HTML Specification.

National language

The acceptance of de facto national languages is sometimes used as a means of remaining unprejudiced or unbiased. In the United States, the federal government has not declared a national language. English is accepted as the de facto national language. To partially cope with this situation, the federal government has given states the right to declare their official language. This right is exercised, with New Mexico having recognized both English and Spanish for official purposes ever since gaining statehood. Also, Louisiana uses French and English as official languages, and Hawaii uses Hawaiian and English as official languages.

Similarly, in the former Soviet Union, Russian was not legally the official language, but de facto. Likewise in the UK, English is the dominant language but no official language has ever been declared. Sweden is another case of a country with no de jure language.


A de facto government is a government wherein all the attributes of sovereignty have, by usurpation, been transferred from those who had been legally invested with them to others, who, sustained by a power above the forms of law, claim to act and do act in their stead.<ref> 30 Am Jur 181. Law Dictionary, James A. Ballentine, Second Edition, 1948, page 345. </ref>

In politics, a de facto leader of a country or region is one who has assumed authority, regardless of whether by lawful, constitutional, or legitimate means; very frequently the term is reserved for those whose power is thought by some faction to be held by unlawful, unconstitutional, or otherwise illegitimate means, often by deposing a previous leader or undermining the rule of a current one. De facto leaders need not hold a constitutional office, and may exercise power in an informal manner.

Not all dictators are de facto rulers. For example, Augusto Pinochet of Chile initially came to power as the chairperson of a military junta, which briefly made him de facto leader of Chile, but then he later amended the nation's constitution and made himself President, making him the formal and legal ruler of Chile. Similarly, Saddam Hussein's formal rule of Iraq is often recorded as beginning in 1979, the year he assumed the Presidency of Iraq. However, in practice his de facto rule of the nation began at an earlier date, as during his time as vice president he exercised a great deal of power at the expense of the elderly Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

Another example of a de facto ruler is someone who is not the actual ruler, but exerts great or total influence over the true ruler, which is quite common in monarchies. Some examples of these de-facto rulers are Empress Dowager Cixi of China (for son Tongzhi and nephew Guangxu Emperors), Prince Alexander Menshikov (for his former lover Empress Catherine I of Russia), Cardinal Richelieu of France (for Louis XIII), and Queen Marie Caroline of Naples and Sicily (for her husband King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies).

Some notable true de facto leaders have been Deng Xiaoping of the People's Republic of China and General Manuel Noriega of Panama. Both of these men exercised near-total control over their respective nations for many years, despite not having either legal constitutional office or the legal authority to exercise power. These individuals are today commonly recorded as the "leaders" of their respective nations; recording their legal, correct title would not give an accurate assessment of their power. Terms like strongman or dictator are often used to refer to defacto rulers of this sort.

The term de facto head of state is sometimes used to describe the office of governor general in the Commonwealth Realms, since the holder of that office has the same responsibilities in their country as the de jure head of state (the sovereign) does within the United Kingdom.

In the Westminster System of government, executive authority is often split between a head of state who is the nominal/de jure/theoretical executive authority, and a Prime Minister and Cabinet who implement executive powers in a de facto sense, in the name of the nominal/de jure executive authority. In the United Kingdom, the British Sovereign is the theoretical executive authority, even though executive decisions are made by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on the Sovereign's behalf (hence the term "Her Majesty's Government").

The de facto boundaries of a country are defined by the area that its government is actually able to enforce its laws in, and to defend against encroachments by other countries that may also claim the same territory de jure; the line of control in Kashmir is an example of a de facto boundary. As well as cases of border disputes, de facto boundaries may also arise in relatively unpopulated areas when the border was never formally established, or when the agreed border was never surveyed and its exact position is unclear. The same concepts may also apply to a boundary between provinces or other subdivisions of a federal state.

Similarly, a nation with de facto independence, like Somaliland, is one that is not recognized by other nations or by international bodies, even though it has its own government that exercises absolute control over its claimed territory..

Other usages

De facto racial segregation often occurs because users of a given facility, such as a library or school, tend to be residents of that neighborhood and so reflect its ethnic makeup. The facility tends to become racially or ethnically segregated without any law calling for de jure segregation, if the same applies to the neighborhood.

A de facto monopoly is a system where many suppliers of a product are allowed, but the market is so completely dominated by one that the others might as well not exist. (Similarly for related terms such as oligopoly and monopsony.) This is the type of situation that antitrust laws are intended to eliminate, when they are used.

A domestic partner outside marriage is referred to as a de facto husband or wife by some authorities. In Australia and New Zealand, in contrast to other English-speaking countries, defacto has become a term for one's domestic partner. It is a legally recognised relationship of a couple living together in Australian law, e.g. "This is my defacto, Rachel". This is equivalent to the term common-law husband or wife used in most other English-speaking countries.

Countries sometimes receive de facto (informal) recognition from other countries which may lead to de jure (formal) recognition.

De Facto is used as the default mayor name in SimCity games.

People may be considered de facto married whether or not they have had a formal marriage ceremony.<ref>Walker Lenore E.A. "Battered Woman Syndrome. Empirical Findings". Violence and Exploitation Against Women and Girls, November 2006, page 142.</ref>


  1. ^ 30 Am Jur 181. Law Dictionary, James A. Ballentine, Second Edition, 1948, page 345.
  2. ^ Walker Lenore E.A. "Battered Woman Syndrome. Empirical Findings". Violence and Exploitation Against Women and Girls, November 2006, page 142.

See also

Original Source

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