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What if the Court Gives You a Decision You Think is Wrong? – Part I

The process of divorce can be grueling and exasperating, and sometimes, people don’t end up with the outcome they wanted. As a matter of fact, judges frequently joke that they know their decision is a good one if both sides are unhappy with it. This is why judges encourage people to settle -- you know what you’re getting.

But suppose you receive a ruling that seems blatantly unfair, or you feel that the judge has overlooked or forgotten a key piece of evidence that your attorney presented. What can you do?

There are certainly steps you can take to try and get the unfair decision modified. Here’s what it most often looks like:

Questioning Temporary Orders

Some matters, especially matters that are considered temporary, are frequently not heard by judges at all; they’re heard by Magistrates.

Magistrates are like “mini-judges” and in Boulder County we have a Magistrate who hears temporary financial matters. A case would fall to her if, for example, a couple files for divorce but can’t agree on temporary financial matters during the pendency of the divorce. Temporary orders resolve those issues. It would often cause one party or the other to be under substantial financial pressure if they had to wait for the final divorce to have these matters resolved.

The Magistrate will make temporary decisions when the couple is unable to resolve the issue on their own. For instance, she will indicate how much one party pays to the other, who’s responsible to pay which bills, etc.

She may also oversee disputes about property. (Say the family owns two cars, a summer sports car and a winter SUV, and both parties want to use the SUV because it’s January. Which person gets to use it? The Magistrate will decide.)

The Magistrate’s decisions are subject to judicial review by a District Court judge. So, if a party is dissatisfied with a Magistrate’s decision, that party can request that a District Judge “review” the Magistrate’s decision. However, these reviews can be expensive. By way of example, a party will often need to obtain a full transcript of the temporary orders hearing to have the Magistrate’s decision reviewed. Additionally, a District Judge cannot substitute his/her interpretation of the facts for the opinion of the Magistrate. If there are facts to support the Magistrate’s decision, it must be affirmed.

Your request for a review has to be filed pretty quickly, but once the judge reviews the Magistrate’s order, he or she may choose to reverse it, endorse it, or modify it.

Even though the Magistrate’s orders are considered temporary and even though a statute provides that temporary orders should not impact permanent orders, they can still have a major impact on one or both parties’ day-to-day, especially when there are children involved. It can take months, or in some cases years, to fully finalize a divorce – and when there are financial limitations for the children’s activities or when a party is forced to leave their house, it can be very stressful, and may be worth asking a District Judge to review the order.

District Judges Handle Permanent Orders

Non-financial temporary orders and permanent orders, such as the finalized rulings for custody schedules, asset distribution, alimony and maintenance (among others), are handled by District Judges.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about the process of having a District Judge’s orders reviewed if you think he or she missed an important piece of your particular case.

If you’re considering a legal separation or divorce, call us at 303-449-1873 to set up a free consultation.