What is a family law master? The Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure define a family law master as “a person appointed by the court, including a family law conference officer, to take evidence on one or more disputed issues and submit a report to the court containing findings of fact and conclusions of law.”
How does a family law master get appointed? A family law master may be appointed based on the stipulation of the parties or on the Court’s own motion. ARFLP 72(A).
Who can be a family law master? The family law master may be an attorney “or other professional with education, experience, and special expertise regarding the particular issues to be referred to the master.” ARFLP 72(A). The parties can stipulate to a particular family law master. However, the Court reviews the qualifications of the proposed family law master and must approve the selection. Id.
How is a family law master compensated? The Court determines the compensation and the allocation of the cost between the parties. The parties can stipulate to the amount of compensation, subject to the Court’s approval. The cost is to be considered a taxable cost. ARFLP 72(A).
What issues may a family law master adjudicate? The master may deal with any matter under Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes that a Judge may hear, including post-decree matters. The order appointing the family law master shall specify the issues for the master. ARFLP 72(B). The Committee Comments advise that a Parenting Coordinator should be used instead of a master if the issues involve the “ongoing enforcement of custody or parenting time orders or related issues….”
What powers does the master have? The master can take all actions necessary for him/her to perform his/her duties (unless limited by the Court’s appointing order). The master can require evidence and rule on its admissibility and may place witnesses and parties under oath and examine them. ARFLP 72(B). The master can also recommend sanctions against a party. ARFLP 72(I). A master appointed to divide retirement benefits, stock options or other employment related benefits has additional powers to divide the assets with or without the parties’ cooperation. ARFLP 72(L).
Who determines the timing of the hearings and submission of the report? The Court will set forth these deadlines in its order appointing the family law master. ARFLP 72(B).
Do the rules of evidence apply to the master’s proceedings? ARFLP 2(B) applies, giving the parties the opportunity to request strict compliance with the rules of evidence. ARFLP 72(C). Subpoenas for witnesses can also be issued, subject to the same consequences of noncompliance as in a trial. ARFLP 72(D).
Is using a master a good option if the parties want a speedy resolution? Yes. A master must set a meeting within twenty days after the initiating order. ARFLP 72(C). Further: “It is the duty of the master to proceed with all reasonable diligence.” Id. The Rules also have a procedure for prompt ruling from the Court. ARFLP 72(G).
How does the master issue his/her decision? The master prepares a report with findings of facts and conclusions of law, files it with the clerk of the court and mails it to the parties. The master may choose to first submit a draft to the counsel/parties to garner their input. ARFLP 72(E).
Can a party object to the report? The parties can stipulate that the master’s findings of fact are final, in which case, the Court can only consider the questions of law. ARFLP 72(H). Otherwise, a party can file a motion to reject or modify the report, referencing the record, and the other party can file a response to the motion. ARFLP 72(F). The Court can then set oral argument, take more evidence, or simply, accept, reject or modify the report. ARFLP 72(G). The Court can also set a hearing on its own motion. Id. The Court will review conclusions of law de novo, and will not reverse findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. ARFLP 72(H).
Does a master have immunity? Yes, for: “all acts undertaken pursuant to and consistent with the order of reference.” ARFLP 72(J).
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona. If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.
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