Some of Utah’s district courts hire individuals to serve as domestic relations commissioners. These commissioners are not judges, but they are similar. They wear black robes and sit in a courtroom like a judge. In family law cases, these commissioners preside over most of the hearings in the final trial before a judge. If the parties in a family law case settle before trial, they might never need to go to a hearing.
The key differences between commissioners and judges include how they conduct hearings and the finality of decisions. Commissioner hearings are typically much shorter and their decisions not technically final.
Hearings In Front Of Commissioners
For hearings in front of commissioners, the parties, and their attorneys summarize the evidence and testimony they would use if the court was holding a full hearing with a direct and cross examination. The parties can also inform the court, through the commissioner, of any deals or agreements they have reached. The commissioner then “recommends” a decision. This process can save time and money for both the parties and court.
But, naturally, some people will feel that the commissioner got it wrong or would have made a different decision if there had been a full hearing with witnesses on the witness stand and scrutiny of evidence.
This is why the commissioner’s decision is a recommendation. If one or both of the parties thinks it is a bad recommendation, they may object to the recommendation and request that the judge addresses the matter. The judge will then make a final decision. If the parties do not object, the commissioner’s recommendation automatically becomes the decision of the court, as if made by the judge.
Parties should also be cautioned that the commissioner’s recommendation is a court order until a judge rules otherwise. This is the case even if it is not necessarily on paper and an objection has been filed thereto.