What Qualifications Does a Special Master Need?
Maria and Tom Warrenpiece were stuck. They had two children: Carlos, age 7, and EIsa, age 9. Subsequent to their separation two years ago, they had extreme difficulty making decisions together about the care of their children. A year ago, they had a custody evaluation and the Commissioner ordered a joint custody arrangement with the outline of a schedule for school weeks and during vacations and holidays. However, Maria continued to see Tom as very controlling and unresponsive to the children. Tom thought that Maria was trying to exclude him from the children's lives whenever she could. As a result of the uncertainty and conflict, Carlos was having behavioral problems at school and EIsa was frequently weepy. Maria would only allow communication through their attorneys. After they had been in court three times in six months, the Commissoner proposed that the parties consider using a Special Master. Both Maria and Tom were disillusioned with using the court repeatedly to resolve their problems. They were informed that by mutual agreement they could try a new process. Through their attorneys, they agreed on procedures and chose a Special Master. One year later Tom and Maria communicate by fax, sparingly using the phone and occasionally meet with the Special Master to make particular decisions.
This is the kind of situation in which a family can benefit from the appointment of a Child Custody Special Master, or Parenting Plan Coordinator. This new role, recently introduced in Southern California, provides a useful alternative to other dispute resolution mechanisms for chronically conflicted divorced parents, particularly those who repeatedly look to the courts to resolve relatively minor issues in the family. It is also useful when one or both parents have significant psychopathology, when there are children with special needs. or children who are infants and toddlers in which significant negotiation needs to occur to coordinate parenting of their development. A big impetus to the establishment of this role was provided by a training session given by Dr. Joan Kelly in the fall of 1997, co-sponsored by the Divorce and Family Therapy Specialists, L.A. County Bar Family Law Section, and Cedars-Sinai Hospital. The participants in this seminar were surveyed after the seminar about their opinions and the results of this survey will be described later in this article.
Angus Strachan, Ph.D
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For more information, contact the Family Law Offices of Renee M. Marcelle at (415) 456-4444, or online at http://www.familylawmarin.com/--