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The Difference Between Judges, Magistrates, and Hearing Officers in Family Law Courts


Although many people think that all divorces are overseen by judges, the reality is that there are actually a number of different decision makers who could be involved in a person’s divorce proceedings. Knowing what to expect when it comes to who will oversee a divorce can help reduce the stress that couples experience when anticipating litigation in a courtroom, so if you have questions about the courtroom proceedings that are required in divorce, it is important to contact an experienced Clearwater divorce lawyer who can advise you.

The Role of the Judge

Florida’s family law courts handle a wide range of legal matters, including everything from divorce and annulments to adoption and child custody. In most cases, the same judge will oversee the entirety of the proceedings, which includes coordinating and scheduling hearings, supervising at trial, and issuing a final divorce decree. Judges can also decide temporary issues, such as spousal support, until the divorce is finalized.

If a couple is able to come up with a marital settlement agreement through mediation or negotiation in an out-of-court setting, the judge will be tasked with reviewing the terms of the agreement. Any issues not agreed upon will then be resolved at a trial, where the same judge will hear evidence and arguments from both sides.

General and Special Magistrates

Under Florida law, members of the state bar can be named magistrates and special magistrates to oversee divorces and other family law proceedings. However, a case can only be referred to a magistrate if both parties consent, at which point, the magistrate will be tasked with trying the case, hearing evidence, and issuing a report or recommendation to the referring judge. These reports contain factual findings, as well as legal conclusions and a final recommendation.

Both parties can file objections to the findings of a magistrate’s report and can request a hearing before the judge. The judge will then review the record to determine whether substantial evidence supports the magistrate’s findings and whether there is any evidence that the legal conclusions are clearly erroneous. If these standards are met, the judge must adopt the magistrate’s findings. Special magistrates have a similar role, but are also allowed to preside over depositions and resolve objections by the parties without obtaining their consent.

Hearing Officers

In Florida, family law judges also often utilize support hearing enforcement officers in cases that involve the establishment, modification, or enforcement of child support. Hearing officers are allowed to compel parties to produce evidence, such as proof of income and expenses, and can also hold hearings, review agreements between the parties, and eventually make a recommendation to the judge. In these cases, both parties are allowed to ask the court to modify or even vacate the hearing officer’s recommendations.

Call Today to Learn More About Divorce in Florida

If you have questions about who will be overseeing the divorce proceedings in your own case, please call 727-683-1472 to speak with the experienced Clearwater divorce lawyers at Cairns Law about your concerns.



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