What to Expect in Front of a Commissioner

What should I expect before appearing before a commissioner?

For many people, going to court for a hearing can be an uncomfortable situation. Knowing how to dress and how to behave can have an impact on how you are perceived and can affect the outcome of your case.

First, what is a commissioner?

In family law cases, many districts in Utah have assigned court commissioners to hear cases. They act as de facto judges, and make recommendations in your case based on the evidence and arguments filed with the court and presented at the hearing.

What should I wear to court?

For any hearing in your case, you should dress professionally. Your clothing should be neat and clean. This does not necessarily mean you need to wear a suit (although it doesn’t hurt), but business casual is generally preferred for our clients. All that being said, the only clothing restrictions usually enforced by the court is no shorts and no flipflops.

How should I behave?

You should show up at least 10 – 15 minutes early for your hearing. Plan enough time to get through security at the entrance. Commissioners expect the parties, or the parties’ attorneys, to meet before the hearing to try and reach a resolution before arguing the case in court. These meetings are often conducted in small conference rooms next to the courtroom. Before entering the courtroom, make sure that your cell phone is turned off or is on silent. The courts have very stringent rules on cell phones. Generally, multiple hearings are scheduled at a time which means you will often need to wait until your case is called. There may be several other parties and attorneys in the courtroom during your case. Be respectful of those around you. In many cases, the commissioner will call the cases based on whoever is ready. Occasionally, they will take quicker matters with stipulations or agreements before hearing argument in your case. Courtrooms usually have enough seats in the back for you to wait patiently.

When your case is called, your attorney will call you up to one of the tables in front of the commissioner. At all times, remember to be respectful to the commissioner. While it may seem obvious and unnecessary for us to say: avoid behavior that could be perceived as being silly, cocky, argumentative, bored, or defensive. Do not react to the other attorneys’ comments. Significant damage is done when a client blurts out something in court that is disrespectful to the other attorney. Do not react with a sigh or head shakes. While you may be tempted to do so, it will never help your case.

Commissioners are trying to solve problems. Their job is not to take sides or place blame. They may not address your situation exactly how you would like them. They usually present solutions that they think are best for all parties involved, including any minor children.

Before the hearing ends, the commissioner will usually assign one attorney to prepare a recommendation and order. This is the written record of the ruling the commissioner has made verbally. However, the recommendation and order entered verbally is effective as of the hearing. If your attorney is not assigned to prepare the written recommendation and order, they will have a chance to review it before it is filed and approve it as to form, or ask the other party to make changes to match what the commissioner has stated on the record.

After the hearing is completed, the courtroom is not the place to take victory laps or complain about the commissioner’s decision. If you have questions about the hearing, ask your attorney to explain what happened after leaving the courtroom. Again, do not react to the recommendation, whether you are happy or disappointed. It will not help your case.

Contact our firm for additional questions

If you need more information about what will happen at your hearing, speak with our attorneys at Carr Woodall. We have represented clients in thousands of cases and our attorneys have attended thousands of hearings. Let our past experience guide your future experience in the courtroom.