The Appellate Group

Ward v. McGarry

Ward v. McGarry, 2021 UT App 51 (J. Christiansen Forster)

Family Law; Civil Procedure

Ward and McGarry were engaged in a child support dispute centered on disagreements about McGarry’s income. At a short hearing scheduled to address non-dispositive motions, the commissioner entered a recommendation imputing income to McGarry and ordering McGarry to pay a certain amount in arrearages and attorney fees. The commissioner did not take evidence or make findings, but instead based its recommendations on the parties unaccepted settlement offers made pursuant to rule 68 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Ward objected to the district court, but the court denied the objection and countersigned the commissioner’s recommendation without holding a hearing or making any findings. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding:

  • The district court erred in approving the recommendation and summarily denying Ward’s objection without adequate findings and without a trial or evidentiary hearing. When a party objects to a commissioner’s recommendation, rule 108 of the Utah Rules of Civil procedure requires the judge to make independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence, which the district court failed to do.
  • Even if the court were to construe the district court’s countersigning the recommendation as an implicit adoption of the commissioner’s findings, the commissioner’s findings were inadequate to support her legal conclusions. Her recommendations for imputed income, arrearages, and attorney fees were unsupported by evidence where the commissioner relied on the parties unaccepted rule 68 offers rather than taking evidence on the contested issues.

Read the full court opinion