Special Masters In Conflict

Utah Special Masters

During, or after, a divorce, conflict arises and continues. Those cases are called "high-conflict", and often involve the rights of parents in relation to the children: custody disputes, parent-time (visitation) conflicts; and, parenting styles or roles. The children are often pulled, or affected; and, the conflict persists while the children are being raised. And, the parents are often frustrated by the costs, and time delays, in having to go back to court to determine their rights, or enforce the terms of a divorce or paternity order.

I am David R. Hartwig, Esq., an attorney trained in divorce and post-divorce conflict resolution as a Special Master attorney, I have experience in assisting clients with child custody, child support, or alimony issues; and, in the enforcement of custody and support orders.

Understanding the Role of Utah Special Masters Attorneys

Utah Special Masters are lawyers appointed by courts, or by agreement of disputing parties. to help resolve issues that continue to exist after an order has entered. A detailed article on Special Masters in high-conflict cases, from the Utah State Bar Journal, can be found here. A Special Master can help during a contentious divorce, or afterward.

The agreement, or order, appointing a Special Master will set the boundaries regarding what exactly the Special Master will be asked to do. For example, the parties may agree to focus on only a certain set of related issues, such as parent-time; they may seek an interpretation of a divorce decree; or, change part of a court order, all subject to a right to judicial review

In a high-conflict divorce case, the court may appoint a Special Master or the parties may seek out a Special Master to address ongoing issues affecting the parties' children, including matters of child custody, visitation or parent-time, and child support. The Special Master acts as a quasi-judicial officer, in place of a judge or court commissioner, with authority to order parents to comply with his or her recommendations.

Utah custody statutes require parenting plans, which include the requirement for non-judicial ways of resolving problems. A Special Master can be one way of satisfying that requirement.

The Benefits of using a Special Master include:

Parents can address problems without resorting to litigation, thus avoiding court costs and delays

Parents can almost always save time, and obtain decisions within a day or two, rather than waiting weeks to get a hearing at court

Parents may feel they have greater control when working with a Special Master because they are expected to provide significant input into their unique situation in order to aid the Special Master in making recommendations

Instead of relying on an attorney to address day-to-day issues, the Special Master can step in and make a decision, saving attorney resources for when litigation is absolutely necessary

If a problem is outside a Special Master's authority, the Special Master can still recommend a resolution to a judge or court commissioner. This means parents are not left to litigate an issue starting from square-one.

At a recent presentation on Dealing with Special Problems in Divorce (sponsored by the Utah Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and the Utah State Bar Family Law Section, December 4, 2015)) a well recognized social worker (Ali Thomas) and psychologist (Todd Dunn) provided valuable input on the team effort required in dealing with alienation of, and lack of contact with children in divorce settings, and the value of having a special master included in that team.

The Costs of a Special Master are Usually Shared by the Parties:

I am a Special Master trained to assist in high-conflict divorce cases, specifically

  • Trained at 47th Annual Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Conference, "Traversing the Trail of Alienation," Denver, Colorado
  • Special Master Training at AFCC: Advanced Issues in Child Custody, Chicago, Illinois
  • Special Master Training in Parenting Coordination: Advanced Practice, Chicago, Illinois

Contact a Utah Special Masters Attorney

If you would like to learn more about the role of Special Masters in domestic relations matters, contact me, David R. Hartwig, Esq., or call 801-833-0822. As an attorney with training in custody issues and parenting coordination, I can help you determine whether you and your family would benefit from the appointment and use of a Special Master in your unique situation.