A class-action suit has been filed against the state's district court judges to stop them from ratifying without review the thousands of divorces previously handled by court commissioners.
Last week the Utah Supreme Court ruled that court commissioners do not have the authority to perform core judicial functions, including final divorce decisions.What this means, said attorney Brian Barnard, is that those invalid divorce cases must now be approved by judges. Instead of automatically giving their stamp of approval to the paperwork, the judges should review the cases with the parties involved, he said.
The suit, filed Monday in behalf of client Austin Bryan Adams and "many thousands" of others, seeks to "slow the rubber-stamping down" and guarantee individuals their Constitutional right to be heard, Barnard said.
"If your divorce decree is not valid, for a judge to just approve it without notifying you is contrary to all aspects of judicial fairness," Barnard said.
Barnard's client, who now lives in Nevada, wants to regain visitation rights to his two children that were denied him when his divorce was signed by a Utah court commissioner in 1991.
Barnard estimates that 75 to 80 percent of people whose divorces were granted by court commissioners are probably happy with the results. "But the 20 percent who want to challenge it should be able to," he said.
People whose divorces were granted by judges initially only have the opportunity to reopen their cases when there has been a substantial change of circumstances regarding alimony, child support and custody issues, Barnard said.
In the face of all the confusion already created by the Supreme Court ruling, Barnard is hopeful his class-action suit will be successful.
"I think it is a clear-cut issue that parties should be able to have their situation reviewed by judges," he said. "Yeah, it may be inconvenient and not smooth-operating for judges, but that's what happens when people's rights are affected."