Pennsylvania divorces in Doylestown and Newtown may be settled between parties, at a Master’s Hearing, or at a court hearing. In Bucks County, when there is a dispute regarding the division of marital property or equitable distribution of property, the case will be reviewed by a Family Master.
What is a Family Master?
A Family Master is not a judge, but an attorney appointed by the court to conduct a hearing. The hearing is an informal settlement-oriented conference, and the Master has the responsibility to ensure that the action proceeds in a fair and equitable matter.
What Happens at a Master’s Hearing?
At a Master’s Hearing, the Master will review the previously filed information regarding the marital estate and each party’s proposed distribution. The Master will thoroughly explore relevant issues and go over the marital estate identifying the marital assets and liabilities. Parties should be prepared to present and discuss all of the assets, debts and income information including but not limited to the following:
- a party’s income from his or her employment,
- other employment benefits, including life insurance,
- retirement plans, and/or
Expenses such as mortgage, car payments, car insurance, homeowners insurance, utilities, etc., will also be examined.
It is important for parties to have all the necessary documents to verify values, dates, etc.
In addition to the information presented, a Master will also hear arguments from both sides about how the marital estate should be divided.
The Master will then make a recommendation as to how the marital assets should be distributed. Once the recommendations are made, the parties take into account the Master’s recommendations and then begin negotiation for resolution or settlement of the marital estate.
If negotiation is successful and both parties can agree to the terms, then the agreement goes on the record in front of the Master. Although this is a verbal transcribed record it is just as binding as if it were written.
If parties cannot agree, then the Master will have to issue a report on his findings and recommendations, which will be examined at a court hearing. Either party can file exceptions or an appeal to the Master’s recommendations and request a de novo hearing in front of a trial judge. De novo means “new.” Essentially, the parties get a new hearing in front of a judge. The hearing before the judge is not like the Master’s Hearing. It is a formal court hearing. Although it is a de novo hearing, the Judge will give great deference to the recommendation issued by the Master. It is for this reason most cases settle at the Master’s Hearing unless there is a legal argument that can be made against the recommendation, or there is a factual dispute about value that a Judge must decide.
If you are scheduled for a Master’s Hearing in Bucks County, it is best to have an experienced divorce lawyer with you who will know what to file, what to say, and what documents to prepare and present.