There are two counties in Minnesota in which both judges and referees preside over divorce cases. These are Hennepin County and Ramsey County. Practically speaking, judges and referees have the same amount of authority. They both conduct hearings and trials and issue orders. Orders issued by referees have to be reviewed and approved by a judge. Most counties do not have referees, and divorce cases are tried by a district court judge.
Sometimes I am asked how much leeway a judge or referee has when deciding a case. How much can the judicial officer’s personal interpretation of the facts and law impact the case?
There are some issues that are fairly straightforward. Child support is a good example. Once parenting time has been determined, the parties’ incomes are entered into the Minnesota child support calculator and once the monthly child support payment has been calculated, there can only be a deviation under certain conditions. So, I think it is fair to say that most judges who consider the same set of facts for child support will order the same monthly child support payment. Child support continues until a child has emancipated, which usually means the child has both attained the age of 18 and has graduated from high school.
Spousal maintenance, on the other hand, is very different. Different judges could award different amounts based on the same set of facts. This is because there are several factors for a judge to consider, and different judges can assign importance to different factors. In part, this is why it is important to carefully determine whether a case is a spousal maintenance case, and what factors should be relied upon in either arguing for, or arguing against, an award of spousal maintenance.
With spousal maintenance, the issue is not only the amount of the monthly payment, which can vary considerably from judge to judge, but the duration of the award, that is, for example, should it be for five years, ten years, or permanent. This is an issue for which you need the help of an experienced divorce attorney, one who is familiar with the bench in a particular county and with prior decisions of the judicial officers.
If you have questions about this or any other legal matter, please call Minnesota divorce attorney Daniel M. Fiskum at (952) 270-7700. Daniel M. Fiskum and Minnetonka Family Law, P.A., are conveniently located in the Carlson Towers at the intersection of I 494 and I 394 in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Call now to schedule a free divorce case analysis.