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Home » FAQs » Colorado Magistrates and District Court Judges – what’s the difference?

Colorado Magistrates and District Court Judges – what’s the difference?

A poised female judge with a confident smile sits at her bench in a courtroom, gavel and microphone in front, illuminated by sunlight through window blinds.

You may see on a Case Management Order or Notice of Initial Status Conference something written like:

“Your case is assigned to a Magistrate, and your Permanent Order Hearing will be heard by a Magistrate. Any party who fails to file a written objection within 14 days shall be deemed to have consented.”

Magistrates are administratively appointed – meaning, they are not appointed by the governor of Colorado. They are appointed usually by the Chief Judge of the district where your case is being handled. This means they are not up for retention on a ballot, and they do not undergo judicial performances. They play a more limited role than a district court judge, who is appointed by the Governor and will be up for retention on a ballot. District Court judges handle all matters involving civil, criminal, and family law. Magistrates are appointed to assist district court judges in one of these areas. They help alleviate the workload of district court judges. Certain district courts have specialty magistrates, working on specific issues like child support or contempt. Others have general family law magistrates who help were they’re needed.

Family law magistrates are just as experienced as district court judges. Often times, if you’re not looking, you may not notice the difference. However, there are a few things to consider if you’ve filed and your case was automatically assigned to a magistrate instead of a district court judge:

  • If a magistrate issues an order, under Colorado Rules of Magistrates (CRM), they cannot “reconsider” their order (at least, not yet, although there are talks to change this). District court judges can, if you provide good reason. So the only way to reconsider a magistrate’s order in these cases, unless it’s clerical, is through a Petition for Magistrate Review (and then an appeal). In other words, magistrates are limited in some ways.
  • Magistrates often have better availability on their docket than district court judges. This is not always the case, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking for quicker resolution for your issue.
  • You must object to a magistrate appointment within 14 days of notice that one is assigned to your case. This typically happens right after you file. Otherwise, you’ve consented (agreed) to use a magistrate instead of a district court judge to issue permanent orders concerning property division, maintenance, child support, or allocation of parental responsibilities.
  • If you consent to a magistrate presiding over your case, then any order they issue is treated like a district court judge issued it. Meaning, you appeal the order like you would a district court judge (through the Colorado Court of Appeals).
  • If consent was not necessary, you must seek review by a district court judge if you disagree with the magistrate’s order.
  • Most, if not all, post-decree cases are handled by magistrates.
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