What’s the difference and who decides in your Florida divorce
Today we will explain the various decisionmakers who may be involved in your Florida divorce proceedings. Knowing what to expect can help to lessen the stress and concern most people understandably experience in anticipation of the courtroom.
Role of the judge
The Florida Family Court handles matters like divorce and related family proceedings. Unless it is impractical, the same judge hears everything family-related for any one family. The judge assigned to your dissolution of marriage will coordinate, schedule and conduct the entire process, including the trial and issuance of the final divorce decree.
The judge will also decide any interim or temporary issues (such as temporary spousal support until the proceedings are over) with a hearing if necessary, throughout the divorce process.
If you reach through negotiation or mediation a marital settlement agreement (MSA) in which you negotiate the terms of your divorce, the judge will normally incorporate the property division provisions into the final divorce decree. The judge must review decisions the parties reached regarding child custody and support or alimony for approval and incorporation into the decree.
The judge will decide any or all issues not agreed upon after a trial in which the parties will each present their evidence and arguments.
Magistrates and hearing officers are available to assist family court judges with divorce proceedings as follows.
General and special magistrates
The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure provide for members of the state bar to be appointed as general magistrates and special magistrates in divorce and most other family law proceedings. If each party consents, the judge in the divorce may refer issues in the case to a magistrate to try. After the parties submit evidence and any required hearings are completed, the magistrate issues a report and recommendations for the judge.
The general magistrate’s report contains factual findings and legal conclusions along with recommendations for the judge. Either party may file exceptions (objections) to the report, including a hearing request on them before the judge. The judge will decide whether the record includes substantial evidence to support the magistrate’s factual findings as well as whether the magistrate’s conclusions of law are “clearly erroneous.” If the evidence and legal conclusions meet these standards, the judge must adopt them.
A special magistrate’s role is very similar, except that they may preside over depositions (private testimony taken by the parties) and resolve objections by the parties without their consent.
Support enforcement hearing officers
The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure also allow each court to utilize support enforcement hearing officers, who are normally Florida attorneys. A judge may refer issues of child support establishment (or later, modification or enforcement) to a hearing officer, who compels the parties to produce relevant documents for determining appropriate child support (like proof of income, assets and expenses), holds a hearing with testimony, reviews any agreements between the parties and decides what child support decision to recommend to the judge. Either party can ask the court to modify or vacate the hearing officer’s recommendations.
This is only an overview of the responsibilities of these Family Court decisionmakers. A Florida divorce lawyer can answer more specific questions as they pertain to your circumstances.