Magistrate v. Judge

As a litigant in a Florida Family Law case, it is possible that certain portions or maybe your entire case will be heard and decided by a Judge or a General Magistrate.  So what is the difference between these judicial officers and do you have a voice in deciding which one will hear your case?

In Florida Family Law cases such as divorce or paternity, often a case gets referred to a General Magistrate instead of a Judge.   Most Family Law Judges enter an Order of Referral on their own for certain types of motions and cases; and especially when the parties are self represented litigants.  In addition, a party can request that specific matters get referred by filing a Motion for Order of Referral.  But just because your case gets referred to the General Magistrate doesn’t mean that the Magistrate will hear your case, That is  because either party may object to the referral within 10 days of the date that the referral is made.  In Florida, the use of a magistrate has to be by the consent of both parties, so if one party objects to the General Magistrate, the matter does not go to the Magistrate but must be heard by the Family Law Judge instead.  An objection will also cause the postponement of any hearing that was set in order to correspond with availability with the Judge’s calendar.

A party who files an Objection to the Order of Referral does not have to state any specific reason or basis for their objection.  At New Horizons Law, P.A., Michael J. Costantino, Esq. has found that some parties object because the party does not like the Magistrate or because the party might believe that the Judge would be more favorable to their case.

In many instances, it may be faster to get hearing time on the General Magistrates calendar than it would be on the Judge’s calendar.  New Horizons Law, P.A., Michael J. Costantino, Esq. has found that in some cases, our clients are in need of getting certain temporary matters heard immediately.

In a hotly contested divorce case, these temporary matters can include the following:  who gets to stay in the marital home; spousal support; who gets to use which motor vehicle; time sharing schedule with the parties’ minor children; child support; money for attorney fees; and maintaining health insurance just to name a few.

A General Magistrate has the same powers as a Judge to hear testimony and make a ruling that is based upon the evidence that is presented by the parties.  The general magistrate must then submit a Report and Recommendation of the General Magistrate to the Family Law Judge.  This Report is required to contain findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations.

Once the Report and Recommendation of the General Magistrate is sent to both parties and each party has 10 days to object to the Report by filing to exceptions with the Family Law Court and request a hearing with the Judge. Filing exceptions can be expensive, because the objecting party is required to pay for a transcript of the hearing(s) before the Magistrate and provide copies to the judge and other party.  If neither party timely files exceptions, then the Family Law Judge will enter an order approving the Report.

If you have any questions about the use of General Magistrates, please contact New Horizons Law, P.A., Michael J. Costantino, Esq.