The current system in Utah for dealing with divorce and other domestic issues is that it must go through commissioners who act as gatekeepers to the assigned judge. Cases are under the jurisdiction of the District Court, and if a case ever makes it to trial, a judge will ultimately rule on it. The Utah Rules of Civil Procedure govern domestic law and all other civil cases. It should seem wrong to have one set of rules for medical malpractice and divorce cases. What follows are the top reasons why Utah needs its own Family Law Court.
1. Commissioners are an Inelegant Solution To Time Saving.
Commissioners specifically handle domestic matters. They hear everything from temporary orders in divorce actions to protective orders against a cohabitant. A commissioner’s singular focus gives them unparalleled expertise. They hear far more domestic issues than judges, as most cases rarely make it to trial. But Commissioners lack one crucial thing: actual authority. Although they can issue orders, their orders are only recommendations until sufficient time has passed. They lack the authority to sign a divorce as being final. Only a judge can do that. A party can easily request a second hearing if they don’t like the commissioner’s reasoning. If the commissioners were judges, the hearing would have stricter appellate requirements.
And unless there’s a settlement, they cannot end a case. You have to go before a judge. Make a commissioner a judge so they have the authority to handle a case. Parties will benefit from having one judge from start to finish.
2. Domestic Cases Need Their Own Rules
Utah, like all states, have a set of rules that govern civil cases generally. Some states have specific rules for specific actions, such as Idaho’s Rules of Family Law Procedure. Utah uses one set of rules for all civil cases. One size fits all does not work for hats, and it doesn’t work for statutes.
For example, Rule 65A sets out the rule in which a party may acquire a temporary restraining order in civil cases, including divorces or custody matters. The main requirement is a showing of facts that “immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the applicant before the adverse party or that party’s attorney can be heard in opposition.” See Rule 65A(b)(1). These motions are typically decided within a day. Rule 106(b)(1)(B) provides that a custody order may be temporarily modified “to address an immediate and irreparable harm or to ratify changes made by the parties, provided that the modification serves the best interests of the child.” These motions have the same standard, but typically take 30 days to be heard, depending on the backlog of the court. As of now, it gives a party potentially three bites at the apple (the original TRO, the motion to modify, and the objection to the commissioner’s recommendation), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re the one eating. But what issue that is likely to succeed in proving a standard of immediate and irreparable harm would be worth preventing in 30 days?
A separate family law code could create an appropriate standard for modifying final orders in domestic actions, and would also prevent the multiple attempts on the same issue.
3. Family Matters Simply Take Far Too Long To Take To Trial.
Commissioners are the gatekeepers to overworked judges. Judges in the district court here in Utah handle domestic matters, criminal matters, civil matters and even tax matters.
What this ends up meaning for those family matters that need to go to trial is that the person needs to wait months before they get their day in court. I recently had a situation where a father was attempting to get custody of his children and had evidence that Mother was engaging in dangerous practices. No settlement was possible. Eight months was the soonest we could get a trial.
Eight months is an unacceptable amount of time to wait, and it would not have happened if there was a separate court dedicated to domestic matters with judges dedicated to family law work.
These are just three brief reasons that Utah needs it’s own family law court. Not only would domestic matters have a clearer rule set that would allow practitioners to better assist their clients, but there would be speedier resolutions.