Utilizing A Special Master In Family Law Cases
Utilizing a Special Master in family law cases (such as divorce, child custody, or support cases) is an often-overlooked option. But what exactly is a Special Master? A Special Master is a person appointed by the court to oversee or accomplish specific assigned responsibilities. There are different types of Special Masters based on the purpose of the appointment, such as conveying real property, overseeing discovery, or looking into financial matters.
Conveying Real Property
A common situation in divorce cases is for one spouse to be awarded the family home that is in both spouses’ names, the other spouse is ordered to remove their name by executing a Quit Claim Deed, and that spouse may be unwilling to execute a Quit Claim Deed for whatever reason. Under RCW 6.28.010 and CR 70, the court can appoint a Special Master to act in place of the uncooperative spouse and execute the Quit Claim Deed. This can apply to other documents that may need to be executed as well. The court can also require the uncooperative spouse to pay for the cost of the Special Master.
The court can also appoint a Special Master to address discovery matters in family law cases, under CR 53.3, because judges may not have the time to be able to fully understand discovery disputes in complex cases or have sufficient information to understand the history and intricacies of lengthy litigation. Discovery matters can include presiding at depositions and/or adjudicating discovery disputes. For discovery disputes, the purpose of appointing a Special Discovery Master is to provide independent assistance for the court to gain a neutral and in-depth understanding of the dispute from the Special Discovery Master’s report. A Special Discovery Master would hear the dispute and report to the court their recommendations as to resolution, including, if appropriate, an imposition of sanctions and payment of fees. Appointment of a Special Discovery Master may also in itself help to deter improper discovery conduct by parties.
A party may request appointment of a Special Discovery Master or one can be appointed by the court’s own motion. The court will decide how the Special Discovery Master will be compensated, taking into account the financial resources of the parties and such other factors as the court deems appropriate.
The court can also appoint a Special Master to look into disputed financial matters, including reviewing accounting for past due support and reimbursements for child expenses that may be owed or for community funds that one spouse may have removed, particularly when amounts owed span a number of years.