The master in divorce is an experienced family law attorney appointed by the court who may help you and your spouse resolve your differences. Masters resolve contested divorce and annulment cases, including post-divorce alimony and equitable division of debts and assets. A divorce master will not provide legal advice or help you file for divorce.
The master does most of the court’s work in a divorce case. This process aims to lessen the judges’ workload, resolve disagreements and prevent cases from going to trial. A master’s duties include conducting conferences to resolve the following issues:
- Equitable division, alimony changes, and child custody disputes
- Counsel fees, costs, and expenses
- Special relief and discovery (the process by which the parties exchange information, documents, and testimony before a trial)
The master (the term “hearing officer” is used in the statute) can hear testimony and take evidence.
How Does This Work?
After discovery, the parties may agree on the division of your assets and debts, for example. If so, we will draft a settlement agreement outlining the agreement’s terms, file it with the court, and if all goes well, it will be part of the divorce decree. If we cannot reach an agreement, we can request a masters hearing, which may come four to six months later.
Before the hearing, we will create a document for the court stating the relevant information in your case, including facts about you, your children, spouse, incomes, and assets. With it will be copies of relevant documents the parties exchanged during discovery. Your spouse and their attorney will do the same. The master will review both sides’ submissions before the hearing to understand the issues the two of you have resolved and those still in dispute. At the hearing, both spouses, their lawyers, and the master meet in a courthouse conference room.
If the master feels the need, testimony would be taken to create a complete record of the relevant facts. If some facts are disputed, the master may use testimony to make credibility judgments about the parties and witnesses.
The master makes recommendations to help the parties reach an agreement. If you do so at the hearing, the agreement is read to a court reporter, who records it as a court transcript. The master sends the file to the judge, who signs the final decree.
If there is no agreement at the hearing, the master writes a report with a statement of facts, conclusions of law, and a recommendation to resolve the issue. It is sent to the attorneys in the case. We would have 20 days to discuss and accept or reject it. We could also ask the master for a new hearing. If one or both sides disagree, the recommendation can be appealed, and a hearing with a judge will be requested. The judge will hear arguments on the exceptions at the hearing and issue a final decree.
Get the Help You Need From Attorneys You Can Trust
A divorce has many moving pieces. You can get into trouble if you do not understand how it all works together. A critical component is court procedures. You may have a strong case that should help you reach your goals, but if you do not know how the court system works, what you need to do, and who does what, you may fall far short.
The attorneys at Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., can answer your questions and represent you in your divorce so you will have the best chance possible for a positive outcome. Contact us today to see how we can help.