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What Is a Family Law General Magistrate?

Not all divorce cases are overseen by a judge. What is the alternative?

In a Florida divorce, you may be surprised to learn that a judge is not necessarily going to hear your case. There may be times when your case is referred to a general magistrate, not the judge.

If your case is referred to a general magistrate, know that a general magistrate is not the same thing as a judge. A general magistrate is actually an attorney, but magistrates do behave similarly. If your case is referred to a magistrate you can expect the magistrate to hear testimony and make rulings on evidentiary matters. A magistrate even wears black robes, further blurring the lines between a magistrate and judge. So, how do general magistrates and judges differ?

Primarily, they differ in that magistrates lack the power to issue final divorce orders. These orders require parties to act — or, alternatively, refrain from acting — and can only be ordered by a judge. Instead, general magistrates have the authority to submit a report and recommendation to the assigned Circuit Court Judge for your case. The report and recommendations typically contain findings of fact, recommendations and legal conclusions. Once the report and recommendations are ready to be submitted, the magistrate must notify the parties that the findings were submitted to the Circuit Court Judge.

You may wonder, then, why general magistrates are involved at all, if the Circuit Court Judge will still have the final say. Simply put, judges are busy people, and general magistrates are used to unclutter the busy docket of cases filed. General magistrates, in effect, are a means by which cases can be expedited.

Additional Information to Know About General Magistrates

If the findings and recommendations of a general magistrate are disagreeable to a party, the party may respond by serving exceptions to the magistrate’s report/recommendations. These “exceptions” are simply objections, and the objections must be served within 10 days of being served with the general magistrate’s report and recommendations. By objecting, a party is essentially asking for a hearing with the judge.

Your Florida family law attorney will help you craft specific legal objections. Otherwise, vague objections will be given no legal weight. In sum, know that Florida family law courts are busy places that must operate efficiently. General magistrates are a valuable tool to help courts hear your divorce case in a timely and expedited fashion.

If you have questions regarding magistrate process, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]