FAQ: My wife and are I separated. My wife is living at our house in Doylestown, and about 2 years ago, I moved to an apartment 5 minutes from our house. We have come to an agreement about the custody schedule, and it was easy to agree because we both believe our children need both of us in their lives. However, when it comes to dividing our property and assets, we cannot come to an agreement. My wife thinks that she should get more than 50% of our assets and property. Family members have told me that we will have to appear before a Master who will make recommendations as to how the marital estate should be divided. What is a Master’s Hearing? Do I have to agree to the Master’s recommendations?
Answer: Because you are both in Doylestown, your equitable distribution (dividing of assets) matter will be filed in Bucks County. Economic claims, such as dividing marital assets, are heard by a Master. A Family Master is an attorney appointed by the court to try to resolve contested divorce matters such as equitable distribution and alimony. A Master conducts a hearing or a settlement-oriented conference to help parties come to a resolution without the costs associated with a trial before a judge.
At the hearing, the Master will review the previously filed financial information and collect additional information, evidence, financial documents, testimony, etc., examine the documents/information thoroughly and provide recommendations as to how the marital assets should be divided. It is important to know that failure to submit the required documentation prior to the hearing deadlines may result in their exclusion from consideration by the Master and the Court.
The parties will then typically start to negotiate within the Master’s recommendations. After negotiations, if the parties can come to a resolution, the agreement will be put on record before the Master.
However, if parties cannot come to an agreement or think that the recommendations are unjust, they do not have to accept the recommendations. Parties should not feel pressure from their lawyers or the Master to accept the terms if they feel there is a legitimate legal argument or factual error in the recommendation.
If the parties do not accept the Master’s recommendations, the Master will file a report with the court. Then, parties would file an appeal and request a new hearing. However, the hearing will no longer be before a Master; it will now be before a judge. This is a formal court hearing which has rules as to how the hearing would proceed. Parties should know that the judge may actually give parties less than what the Master recommended.
For more information about a Master’s Hearing, see Doylestown and Newtown Divorce Cases - Master’s Hearing for Distribution of Marital Assets.
It is best that you talk to a divorce attorney who has extensive experience with equitable distribution of marital property well in advance of an equitable distribution hearing so that all of the required filings can be submitted to the Court, and you are well prepared to present your case to the Master and get the right result.