What is the District Court Referee?
The District Court Referee is an attorney appointed by the judges of the Lancaster County District Court to act as a judicial hearing officer for certain types of cases. Lancaster County has one full-time referee. Douglas County has two full-time referees. In addition, a part-time referee hears cases in other counties around the state as needed. A hearing before the referee is conducted in the same manner as any other hearing of the Court. Testimony is recorded and transcripts of all hearings are available upon request.
The majority of cases heard by the District Court Referee are cases initiated by the State of Nebraska against a nonsupporting parent or stepparent to establish paternity or to establish or enforce an order for child and medical support. An authorized attorney will file a lawsuit on behalf of the children involved or on behalf of the State of Nebraska or both the child and the State of Nebraska. In Lancaster County, the authorized attorney will be a deputy county attorney from the Lancaster County Attorney's Office. These attorneys do not represent either parent and no attorney-client relationship is created between the attorney and any party or witness to the action. Any party to the action may hire their own attorney to represent their legal interests in the matter.
Many child support cases will begin as paternity cases. This means that the legal relationship of father and child must be officially determined by a court. Paternity must be determined before an order of child support will occur. If the parents are married but separated, paternity is generally not an issue, and the case will be a case for support only. The case may be for modification of a child support order already in existence, or it may involve nonpayment of child or medical support. The District Court Referee will hear the case in court, and based upon the evidence and the law, will make a recommendation to the District Court as to the outcome of the case. The referee prepares a written report containing findings and recommendations and sends the report to all parties. By law, the parties have 14 days after receipt of the referee's report to take exception to recommended orders of the referee and have a review by the District Court before final disposition of the case. If no appeal is taken, the referee's recommendations are presented as a proposed order to the District Court for approval. The Court will then review the referee's findings and recommendations and may ratify or modify the recommendations and enter judgment thereon.
For more information, see Rule 3-11 of Local Court Rules and the Nebraska Revised Statutes, Section 43-1608 - Section 43-1613