In Anoka County, where a judge assigned to a particular family court matter remains on that file indefinitely, parties can at least know that the same person, for better or worse, is reviewing their file. In other counties, such as Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, where judges rotate in and out of Family Court, there is no such guarantee. In those counties, many parties opt for a Consensual Special Magistrate to have the consistency and familiarity to which they may not always be privy. Consensual Special Magistrates (CSMs) are highly trained and experienced family law attorneys who are paid by the parties to make rulings in their case. CSMs enjoy a high degree of familiarity with family law and attorneys trust them because of this. The hearings are recorded and the same rules of evidence apply.
These cases can be heard much more quickly than those on a trial court calendar, and the decisions of the CSM are appealed to the Court of Appeals rather than to the District Court. In a recent unpublished decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the parties are able to schedule hearings relatively quickly and, though each party clearly felt that the CSM had made errors, they were able to avail themselves of the CSM who clearly had an intimate knowledge of the case. However, the use of a CSM can substantially increase the cost of a family law matter, and because of this expense, a CSM is not a good fit for every case.
While many family law attorneys are also mediators, ENE evaluators, and MSC, relatively few have the level of training and enjoy a level of trust in the legal community to be a Consensual Special Magistrate.