One of the questions I am asked most as a domestic relations judge is “what is the difference between a judge and magistrate.” This is a great question that has many nuances. But, before I answer that question I want to share some background information and give an update about the Domestic Relations Court.
The Domestic Relations Court continues to focus on better ways to resolve family disputes. We have developed dispute resolution programs to help families resolve their disagreements. The programs include Mediation, Settlement Week, Neutral Evaluations and Co-Parent Coaching.
In the last two months I have presented with court staff, Larry McQuain and Amy Armstrong, to magistrates for the Ohio Association of Magistrates and judges and magistrates for the Domestic Relations Judges Association and Juvenile Court Judges Associations. The presentations were about our dispute resolution programs. I am very proud of the dispute resolution programs we have developed. I am thankful other courts are interested in what we have been able to accomplish.
The Common Pleas Court of Delaware County, Domestic Relations Division has one judge (me) and five magistrates. Therefore, if you have a case in our court you are more likely to see a magistrate than you are to see me. I always like to point out that we have the same number of domestic relations magistrates now as we did prior to the creation of the Domestic Relations Division when I became a judge.
Because the Domestic Relations Division only hears cases that are considered civil cases, not criminal cases, the magistrates can do almost everything that a judge can do. However, there are some very important exceptions.
What are the exceptions? There are a few, but I want to focus on the ones most people going through our court may see. First, a judge is the elected public official presiding over the court. Magistrates are appointed by the judge.
Second, magistrates issue decisions that are not final appealable orders until the judge reviews and signs a judgment entry. This is a little complicated, but it is an important difference. If a magistrate hears a trial, they write a magistrate’s decision and make findings of facts and conclusions of law on what they base their decision. The findings of fact are the determination of credible information which will be used by the magistrate in the decision. The conclusions of law determine what laws are applied to the case.
If someone disagrees with the orders, they have a right to object to the magistrate’s decision. The objection states their disagreements with the decision. After both sides of the case address the contested issue, the judge makes a ruling on all of the contested issues.
When a judge makes a ruling, after a trial or after an objection to a magistrate’s decision, a person can appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals then reviews the judge’s ruling to determine if there are any mistakes.
The magistrate’s role is very important. Another domestic relations judge described magistrates as the engine that drives the Domestic Relations Court’s docket. We have some excellent magistrates in Delaware County. They have great knowledge about domestic relations law. Equally important is that they have a deep passion for helping families and always trying to do want is right for the minor children as families go through our court system.
I am very thankful for my magistrates as well as the entire Domestic Relations Court’s staff. While a person may not agree with a decision a magistrate makes, our magistrates are always trying to do what is best for the family and what is in the best interest of the minor children.
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.