Thursday, July 22, 2010

Using special masters to resolve post-divorce conflicts

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.

What is a Child Custody Special Master?

It is a hybrid role involving aspects of a mediator, an arbitrator, a parent educator (particularly about developmental psychology), and a child custody evaluator. A Special Master's job is to resolve problems quickly by mediation where appropriate or by making decisions for the family where the parents cannot come to a decision, using quasi-judicial authority stipulated to by the parents in advance. Sometimes, the Special Master will focus the parents on their children's needs and educate them about developmental and psychological issues. The Special Master may issue written or oral decisions: a summer schedule might be written whereas the resolution of a weekend crisis by telephone may be done orally. Special Masters can be either mental health professionals or attorneys but, most importantly, they must be knowledgeable and have relevant experience.
Angus Strachan

To read this article in its entirety, please click here.

For more information, contact the Family Law Offices of Renee M. Marcelle at (415) 456-4444, or online at