Judge v. Magistrate…What is the difference in the State of Maryland?

Although magistrates can hear a plethora of different family law cases, their power is limited in the respect that they do not issue final court orders but can only propose recommendations.

Angel Murphy
March 27, 2018

What is a magistrate?

In the State of Maryland, a magistrate is an officer of the Court who is selected by the judges of that Court to hear a limited number of family and juvenile cases. Magistrates are usually attorneys with an extensive amount of family law experience, who are appointed by the Circuit Court for the county in which they are located. Courts appoint magistrates so that they can take testimony from parties and conclude the main issues present in a case and submit findings of fact to a judge for final approval.

 

What are the main differences between a judge and a magistrate?

In a general sense you should think of magistrates and judges as having the same judicial presence, but with slightly different roles. Generally, both judges and magistrates have the same general authority when it comes to hearing your case, ruling on objections, and determining the outcome; however, a judge has more power than a magistrate.

Also, appealing the decision of a magistrate and a judge illicit different processes as well. For instance, when a party wants to appeal the decision of a judge, they must file the appeal with the next highest court and will have more time to do so. Alternatively, when appealing a decision from a magistrate,  a party must appeal it to a Circuit Court judge and do so within a very short window of time after recommendations are issued. Lastly, although magistrates sit on a bench like a judge, they are usually dressed in regular clothes and do not wear a formal robe.

 

 

What kind of cases do Magistrates hear?

A magistrate’s primary function is to assist in the heavy caseload of family law issues over which a judge would usually preside. Maryland magistrates handle very specific case types that include the following:

  • Uncontested divorce (divorce where the parties agree on the issues before the court to grant the divorce)
  • Alimony, child support, family home use, and custody issues pendente lite (while the course is pending—see our previous blog “Initial custody hearing in Maryland and how they relate to custody overall” to find out how this works in Maryland)
  • Paternity
  • Modification of custody
  • Constructive Civil Contempt related to custody, visitation, alimony, support, or use and possession
  • Children in Need of Assistance
  • Children in Need of Supervision
  • Delinquency
  • Attorney fees for the aforementioned case types
  • What are the limitations of what a magistrate can do?

Although magistrates can hear a plethora of different family law cases, their power is limited in the respect that they do not issue final court orders but can only propose recommendations. Those recommendations must ultimately be approved and signed off by a Circuit Court judge if neither party submits objections to those recommendations within the allotted time period.

About The Author
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Angel Murphy is the Founding Partner of The Murphy Law Firm, LLC. As a licensed Maryland attorney and passionate advocate, Angel takes a personal approach to lawyering by devising a creative legal strategy for each client and for each case. Angel enjoys helping her clients face and overcome ...

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