Divorce proceedings are heard in family court in what is known as a “bench trial”. This means that a jury doesn’t hear the trial. A single judge hears it who then decides the final outcome of the case. A spouse has to file a divorce petition with the court and allow the other spouse 21 days to respond. They will receive a hearing date and assigned to a Judge. Many think their hearing will be with a Judge and the matter will quickly be resolved. However, this is not often the case. The initial hearing is before a Commissioner who aids the Judge in the divorce process.
A Commissioner is similar to a Judge and acts in a very similar role. The Commissioner will hear arguments from both sides and consider any evidence that the parties have provided to the court. The Commissioner has the power to make temporary orders concerning various matters. This could include parent time, child support, or even matters as serious as restraining orders. The court expects the parties to follow the defined Utah Rules of Civil Procedure which can often be confusing. Something as simple as missing a filing date can have significant effects on a case.
But What Then?
Once the Commissioner makes a ruling on a matter and a temporary order is in place, either party may object to the ruling and reserve the right to have the issue heard by the assigned Judge. Nothing guarantees that the Judge will grant you a hearing in the case of an objection. Even if he does grant it it will likely be several months before a hearing can be scheduled.
Divorce proceedings can last anywhere from a few months to over a year. If the parties are unable to finalize a divorce agreement through proceedings with the Commissioner, a trial date will be scheduled with the Judge. At trial, a Judge will consider all of the evidence that has been presented to the court as well as the previous orders issue by the Commissioner and, after hearing from and speaking with both parties, will issue a final order that will outline the final divorce decree.