Family Law Bench Book
A referee may hear any domestic relations issue expressly referred by the Family Court Judge, and additional issues stipulated to by the parties.
No hearing may be scheduled until an order of referral is entered by the Court. It is the obligation of counsel to contact the Friend of the Court to schedule a hearing within 14 days of the Order. This may be done in person, or by calling 222-3341.
Adjournments may be granted by the referee, in his or her discretion.
- In any case concerning child custody, visitation, or removal of children from the jurisdiction, the children (four years of age or older) must be interviewed by a Friend of the Court evaluator before the hearing. As a rule, a referee will not hear the case if these interviews have not been completed. Interviews should be scheduled at the time the hearing is scheduled.
- At least three business days prior to the hearing, each party shall submit to the referee and opposing counsel the following:
- A list of any non-party witnesses to be called. This list shall include a short statement of the purpose and substance of the testimony (e.g. character witness, progress of the children in school).
- In any case concerning child or spousal support, complete business and personal tax returns (including all schedules) and W-2's of the two most recent years (and any relevant year) and three recent pay stubs.
- In any case concerning division of property, a joint listing of assets and valuations or separate listings of assets and valuations including the written report of experts hired to evaluate property.
- A memorandum with a brief statement of facts, issues presented, argument, and relief requested.
- Any affidavit or other document to be relied upon by a party.
- Failure to comply with these time limits may lead to adjournment of the case, with or without costs, non-admission of the documents or testimony or other remedy at the referee's discretion. Affidavits of non-party witnesses will not be admitted if not submitted in a timely manner.
- Hearing Time.
The time allotted for the hearing shall be three hours unless prior permission for an exception to this rule has been obtained from the referee. Continuations at a later date will be held at the referee's discretion. In any case where time restrictions are present, the referee shall have the discretion to determine the manner in which time shall be divided among the parties and witnesses.
- Prior to the hearing the referee may meet with counsel to discuss the parameters of the case and the conduct of the hearing.
- The hearing may take a variety of forms, including "round table" discussion, a formal hearing, or an informal hearing, at the discretion of the referee.
- In most cases testimony will be taken. The referee, in his or her discretion, may limit the scope of this testimony. The referee shall also have the authority to limit the number of witnesses to be called by a litigant.
- Children of the parties, adult or minor, should not be brought to the hearing without prior agreement of the referee.
- Evidence. Evidence not admissible by Court Rule may be permitted by the referee to allow the hearing to proceed expeditiously. Evidentiary objections will be considered in determining the weight and credibility of the evidence.
The tardiness of a party (or counsel) may give rise to entry of costs against the negligent party.
Hearings will be recorded. Copies of the tape may be purchased for $20 per tape upon written request with a copy to the other side. The tapes of a hearing will be preserved by the Friend of the Court for ten years from the date of hearing.
Witnesses may be sworn. The number of non-party witnesses may be limited by the referee. If an expert witness will be called, contact the referee before the hearing to set a specific time for the expert's testimony.
The Referee will issue a written report with recommendations on any issues not resolved at the hearing.
- Communications with Referee.
Counsel may contact the referee directly for scheduling or other minor procedural questions. Substantive or significant procedural issues will only be addressed in a phone conference which includes opposing counsel, a scheduled meeting, or by letter to the referee with a copy to opposing counsel. If by letter, the referee will wait 10 days for a response from opposing counsel before responding to the letter.