Role of Court Commissioners in Family Law Cases


Regarding: Role of Court Commissioners in Family Law Cases

Dear XXXX,

This is a letter explaining the role of court Commissioners in the family law cases. This letter is a general explanation of court Commissioners, and not necessarily specific to your case. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may never actually go to court; however, the information contained in this letter will be useful in case you do. If you would like greater explanation as it relates to your specific case, please, feel free to call us and ask any questions you may have. We will be happy to speak with you.

A Commissioner is not quite a judge, but acts as a de facto judge in family law cases. Because of this, most family-law hearings are held in front of Commissioners, whether the hearing is a Temporary Order, Motion for Order to Show Cause, Protective Order, Temporary Restraining Order, Pretrial, or the like. The only time this is not the case is when family law cases are heard in court districts that do not utilize Commissioners – e.g., courts located in smaller Utah counties.

In most hearings, live testimony will not be taken. Instead, the attorneys will proffer evidence, which means the attorneys will stand up and argue. Really, the only time you would talk during a hearing is if the Commissioner asks you a specific question. The Commissioner will have read all pleadings before the hearing.

Sometimes, Commissioners may require witnesses to attend hearings, including: Temporary Orders hearings, or Motion for Order to Show Cause hearings, Protective Order hearings, or Temporary Restraining Order hearings. If so, we would need to subpoena those witnesses at least fourteen days before the hearing. There is a fee for subpoenaing witnesses that is paid directly to the witness.

In certain instances, some Commissioners will have the attorneys go to his or her chambers (i.e., his or her office) to discuss the case. Parties do no accompany the attorneys in chambers, which mean you would be in the courtroom while we speak to the Commissioner. The discussion in chambers is usually a mix of making our arguments to the Commissioner and then listening to what the Commissioner is likely to recommend. Having heard the Commissioner’s likely Recommendations, the Commissioner will ask the attorneys to speak to our clients and see if settlement can be reached. If we reach a settlement, we will read that on the record. If we do not, then we will argue our case to the Commissioner. We realize it is stressful when a Commissioner requests attorneys meet in chambers. That stress is primarily caused by the fact you cannot see what is happening. Please keep in mind we are advocating for you in chambers the same as we would in open court.

If we end up arguing your case in open court, when all parties have finished their arguments, the Commissioner will make Findings and Recommendations and ask an attorney to write them down and provide them to the Court. Upon receiving the written Findings and Recommendations, the Commissioner will approve and forward them to the Judge in your case, who will sign them. Judges almost always approve the Findings and Recommendations of Commissioners.

If you believe the Commissioner made a mistake and made legally incorrect Findings and Recommendations, we can file an Objection with the Judge and ask that the Recommendations be overturned. Any Objection must be filed within fourteen days of the Commissioner’s Recommendations. If you wish to object, you must let us know as soon as possible since it takes time to draft an Objection to a Commissioner’s Findings and Recommendations.

Hopefully, this letter has helped explain the Commissioner’s role in family law cases.

/s/ Marco Brown

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