Can a Special Master Help in My Child Custody Matter?

What is a special master?

Special masters are often used in divorce and paternity actions when parents are having serious child custody issues related to custodial exchange disputes, visitation schedule changes, transportation disputes, religious training, difficulty determining schools, handling behavior problems, choosing extracurricular activities, holiday and vacation schedules, behavior or boundary issues with one or both parents, health care concerns, or other co-parenting issues.

Special masters can also make recommendations in connection with parties' income and assets for purposes of calculating child and spousal support, determining arrearages/overpayments, and disposition of community of property.

Who is a special master?

A special master may be a mental health professional, mediator, or family law lawyer who specializes in helping parents resolve their disputes about what is best for the kids. Parents must agree to use a special master and agree on a specific person. Through a "Stipulation and Order," the parties decide which issues the special master has the power to make decisions about and define how long the special master will perform their job.

In some circumstances, a special master will be appointed even if the parents object. In these situations, the special master reports his or her findings and recommendations to the court. The judicial officer can then choose to adopt or modify recommendations after hearing arguments from both sides.


How can a special master help during divorce or custody matters?

In some circumstances, special masters can make binding decisions related to your children. In other circumstances, parties agree to allow the special master to make recommendations that become binding if neither party objects to the recommendation in court.

Why should we consider a special master?

Whether you are represented by a lawyer or not, special masters can be a useful alternative to repeatedly going to court and having a judge make decisions on child custody issues. In some circumstances, using a special master is preferred anyhow because they are generally much more familiar with you and your children. A special master can help a timely issue get resolved quickly instead of the party's waiting one to three months to get a court hearing.

Where does a special master meet parents?

After a special master has been appointed, they will meet with parents, sometimes in an office setting or at the respective residences of the parents. The special master will review evaluations or other court documents that may help them get to know the family better. The special master may also meet with the children and other parties who come in contact with them.

When should we consider a special master?

Hiring a special master is not cheap. They usually require a retainer upfront and bill on an hourly basis. They should not be your first option. Rather, they should be a last resort after other options, such as a co-parenting counselor, parenting classes, and mediation have failed.

Of course, in a hotly contested matter, a special master may prove to be far less expensive than litigating each issue as it comes up.

If you are wondering whether a special master would be right for your case, schedule a phone call with us today for more information.

Watch: We can't agree on custody. Now what?
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.