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, other co-parenting issues and health care concerns. 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 what 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?
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 s/he is 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 1-3 months to get a court hearing.
WHERE DOES A SPECIAL MASTER MEET PARENTS?
After a special master has been appointed, he/she 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 and determine the types of problems 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 — but rather a last resort after other options like 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 they come up.
If you are wondering whether a special master is right for your case, schedule a consultation with us today for more information.