When you file for a divorce or child custody (i.e., paternity) in Utah, you’ll notice you’ve been assigned a commissioner.

We’re used to hearing about judges, but commissioner is a word almost no one ever uses. So, what is a commissioner?

A commissioner is not quite a judge, but acts as something like an under-judge in family law cases. What this means is a commissioner handles almost all aspects of a family law case, but he or she does not actually have decision-making authority.

What a commissioner does is hear disputes and make recommendations to a judge, then the judge signs off on those recommendations which makes them an order of the court.

So, commissioners hear Temporary Orders, Motions for Order to Show Cause, Protective Orders, Temporary Restraining Orders, Pretrials, etc. Essentially, they hear and make recommendations on every aspect of a case with the exception those things right before trial.

In reality, commissioners exercise a lot of power. They hear the vast majority of disputes in family law cases, and judges almost always accept their recommendations. This means having all your ducks in a row and arguing well in front of a commissioner is incredibly important to the ultimate success of your case.

Really, the only time you won’t have a commissioner in Utah divorce and family law cases is when you find yourself in an area of Utah where they don’t have commissioners. This only happens in smaller Utah counties.

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