It is not uncommon for parties to a divorce or paternity case to disagree with the commissioner’s ruling. After all, it is unlikely that you can both be pleased with the outcome. A commissioner hears all domestic matters from divorces and paternity cases to protective orders. Most of them have a background working for the state in some capacity that relates to family law.
A few of the commissioners previously practiced as divorce lawyers. The rules of civil procedure provide for a relatively straightforward procedure when you want to file an objection.
Rule 108 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the process. First, within fourteen days after the recommendation is made, you have to file the objection. Failure to do so may, and most likely will, result in your waiver of any objection.
From there, you have to give the other side fourteen days to respond to your objection. Once a response has been filed, you can file a reply. Thereafter, you can set the matter for a hearing or, in some cases, the judge will make a ruling without requiring a hearing.
At the hearing before the judge, the standard of review is essentially de novo. That means the judge is not required to give much deference, or any at all, to the commissioner’s ruling. In practice, however, most judges give substantial deference to the commissioner’s first ruling.
For several reasons, you should file objections with the utmost caution. First, parties to a domestic case rarely appear before the judge. It is always best to make a good first impression when you do. If your objection is frivolous, it just might be enough for the judge to remember you the second time you come around (when it probably counts much more because it will be your final trial). Second, it is in many cases a complete waste of attorney fees. As mentioned earlier, most judges defer to their commissioners. Why spend the fees unless you are confident it is worth the expense? That said, we have had a lot of success on objections when we do file because we generally only file objections when there is a good reason.
If you are looking to object to a commissioner’s recommendation, consult a divorce lawyer first. Either your matter is complicated and you need someone with experience to prepare and argue the objection, or you shouldn’t be objecting and you need someone to talk you down.