This Christmas, Santa left a very special gift for Connecticut Family Courts – the return of Special Masters. The pandemic took a lot from Family Court, including most in-person Court dates. Over the past few months, more Court events are returning to in-person. Perhaps none is more valuable for parties going through divorce than Special Masters which is returning to Hartford Family Court on January 12, 2022.
Special Masters are experienced Family Law attorneys who donate their time. The cost to the parties is attorney’s fees to prepare for and attend Special Masters. This is highly preferable to preparing for and going through a Trial. There are two Special Masters (one female and one male) assigned to each case.
Special Masters is an opportunity for parties whose cases are seemingly headed for trial to present their respective cases to the Special Masters, who then render their opinion on how they believe a Judge would decide the case. Statistics show that more than 90% of the cases that come to Special Masters settle without a Trial. This is a tremendous benefit for divorcing couples as trials are highly costly financially and emotionally.
The Court schedules a case for Special Masters when the Discovery process (exchange of information and documentation) is complete, and the parties have not successfully settled their case on their own. The attorneys for the parties prepare documents for the Special Masters summarizing the relevant points of the case and the unresolved issues. These documents include the Financial Affidavits of the parties, Proposed Orders for resolution, and, if applicable, Child Support Guidelines. The parties and their attorneys meet with the Special Masters in a private conference room at the Courthouse. Each attorney presents their client’s respective case. The Special Masters usually have questions for the attorneys and/or the parties. The Special Masters then have the parties and attorneys leave the room while they discuss the case to reach a recommendation for settlement. The parties and attorneys then return to the room for the Special Masters to present their settlement recommendations.
The Special Masters do their best to agree on a recommendation. There are some cases where the Special Masters disagree. They will tell the parties and discuss why they disagree if that occurs. In most cases, the Special Masters agree on a recommendation, or they are able to reach a consensus. In all events, the benefit of having an objective recommendation(s) for how to settle the case cannot be overstated. It is human nature for parties and their attorneys to convince themselves of their arguments and to feel like they were the ones doing all the compromising. An objective voice can frequently serve as the bridge to a final resolution.
Pre-Covid, Special Masters were limited to financial issues. The Masters were not involved in Custody and Parenting issues. When Special Masters return to some courts, they will hear and attempt to resolve financial and Custody/Parenting issues. At McConnell Family Law Group, several of our attorneys volunteer to serve as Special Masters at courthouses throughout the state.
To be certain, many cases benefit from participating in Special Masters. That said, Special Masters is one of several quasi-non-adversarial tools that can be used to settle cases. Other methods include but are not limited to judicial pretrial conferences, mediation, and arbitration. Each case is unique, and there are pros and cons to each methodology. To learn more about our practice or to schedule an appointment with our office, contact us today by calling one of our offices located in Hartford (860) 266-1166, New Canaan (203) 344-7007 or by appointment in Greenwich, Stamford, New Haven, or Niantic. You may also visit us at www.mcconnellfamilylaw.com. Find Peace Through Strength!