What’s the difference between judge and magistrate?

What’s the difference between a judge and a magistrate?

The terms “judge” and “magistrate” are often used interchangeably, but they have significant differences in their roles and responsibilities.

In the context of Family Law in Florida, let’s examine the contrast between judges and magistrates.

In Florida, magistrates in Civil Family Law are typically appointed by a judge for either full-time (eight years) or part-time (four years) positions.

Infographic of a Judge
Infographic of a Judge – Image by storyset on Freepik

Who is the superior magistrate or judge?

With Family Court judges having busy schedules and substantial case backlogs, magistrates are appointed to help alleviate the workload.

They primarily handle temporary needs hearings related to matters such as alimony, child support, and property use during litigation.

However, both parties must consent to have their motion heard by a magistrate, and they have ten days to voice any objections after the appointment.

After reviewing the case, the magistrate issues a ruling based on the presented evidence.

This ruling becomes a report that is reviewed by a judge, who then issues a final court order.

Parties receive the report before the final decree, and if either party objects, they can file an objection within ten days.

However, they may face delays as they wait for the judge to schedule their motion, which can take months in Florida.

Magistrates also assist the Florida Family Court by monitoring cases where one party represents themselves, ensuring proper preparation and filing of documents like financial disclosures, thus expediting the case process.

On the other hand, in Florida, judges begin their terms on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January.

Circuit Court and County Court judges, who typically preside over Family Law cases, are elected through nonpartisan elections and serve six-year terms.

After this period, judges must run for re-election if they wish to retain their position.

To be eligible for a circuit or county judgeship, individuals must have practiced law actively in Florida for at least five years.

However, in counties with fewer than 40,000 residents, the requirement for in-state law practice can be waived.

Additionally, a county can opt for a merit selection process to choose its judges.

Judges make life-impacting decisions

Judges possess the authority to make decisions that significantly impact people’s lives.

Their main responsibilities include reviewing evidence, both written and oral, hearing testimonies, impartially considering all facts, and rendering decisions based on applicable laws.

Judges are expected to uphold moral and ethical conduct throughout their tenure.

While not explicitly mandated by law, judges are considered role models for the individuals whose lives they preside over, particularly in Family Court where they are entrusted with making decisions in the best interests of children, parents, and the institution of marriage.

In conclusion, judges and magistrates play crucial roles in administering justice, but they differ in their decision-making powers, duties, and responsibilities.

Understanding these distinctions is essential for a comprehensive understanding of the legal system in Family Law cases.