If you appear in family court in Minnesota, or submit a matter to the family court for review or consideration, it will be handled by a family court judge, a family court referee or a child support magistrate. Most family court hearings are presided over by judges.
The involvement of referees is limited to certain counties (i.e., Hennepin and Ramsey Counties). In those counties, some family law cases are heard and decided by judges and some are heard and decided by referees. A referee has the same authority as a judge, but the referee’s signed orders must also be signed by a judge. (The fact that a judge signs the order does not mean that a separate hearing before the judge is required.) A party who objects to a referee’s order must obtain review from the Court of Appeals. (Years ago, a party who objected to a referee’s orders could obtain review of the referee’s order by a family court judge. That process is no longer available.)
The involvement of child support magistrates is limited to certain cases involving only child support (i.e., those cases in which the county is providing child support enforcement services). All Minnesota counties have child support magistrates. A party who desires review of a child support magistrate’s order must seek that relief from the Court of Appeals.
If the case is not located in a county that has referees; pertains to a child support in which the county is not providing enforcement services; or involves issues other than child support, the case will be heard and decided by a family court judge.