Most judges’ dockets are quite congested. In an effort to expedite the resolutions of the thousands of cases filed each year, cases are often referred to general magistrates.
In a Florida divorce, modification, or paternity case, there may be times the case can be referred to a general magistrate rather than a judge. The magistrate is often an attorney and can be considered as an assistant to the judge, who has been delegated specific responsibilities, such as deciding temporary matters that are valid until the divorce is granted or helping spouses that are not represented by a lawyer organize their case and prepare for trial.
They have the power to listen to cases and make a ruling based on the evidence presented, which then must be provided to the judge prior to being entered as a court order. Simply put, the magistrate helps move the case along, while the judge still has control over it.
If your case is referred by your presiding judge to a magistrate, you will typically receive notice of this event in the form of a referral order. The notice of referral must state with specificity what the court is referring to the general magistrate. Any party can object to the referral, so long as he/she does so within 10 days after the referral has been served to that party. Otherwise, the law assumes you consent to the referral.
As soon as the referral has been made, you most likely will have a hearing in front of the magistrate. At the hearing, you and the other party can submit evidence and question any witnesses you have. Once the hearing is over, the magistrate then makes written findings and offer his/her recommendation for how the judge should rule on the matter.
The report and order are sent to both parties and they have the right to object or file for exceptions to the report. Both parties have 10 days to file their exceptions with the court and ask for a hearing with a judge. Whichever party files must obtain a transcript of the original hearing to be provided to the judge and the other party before the hearing on exceptions.
With Florida family courts often being at capacity, the use of magistrates in your case can be quite helpful if you are aiming to resolve a divorce or family law matter in a timely manner. However, delays can still occur. To ensure that your rights are protected, whether in front of a general magistrate or judge, is to have a qualified lawyer on your side during the court hearing.
If you are interested in filing for divorce or modifying a family court order in Florida, contact our experienced divorce attorney at The Virga Law Firm, P.A. today.