In Minnesota, family law matters are typically handled either by a family court judge, referee, or child support magistrate. There are minor variations in the legal authority and responsibilities of each such official, and there is also some variation in the types of cases that they preside over.
Most family court hearings in Minnesota are presided over by judges. A family court referee may get involved, but only in certain counties that allow referees to preside over proceedings – for instance Hennepin County or Ramsey County. Because of the volume of cases these counties experience, a family court referee may be hired at the discretion of the county itself. The referee is not appointed by the governor.
There is no major difference between a family court referee and a judge, and a family court referee has, more or less, the same kind of legal authority that a judge has. Yet, when the family court referee signs an order, it must also be approved by a judge. There is no need to appear at a separate hearing before the judge for approval of the referee’s order.
Child support magistrates, as the term suggests, are only involved in those cases where the issue revolves around child support and enforcement of child support payments. In the State of Minnesota, all counties have child support magistrates.