Master for Domestic Relations in Maryland
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Masters for Domestic Relations are hearing officers who take testimony, make preliminary rulings and determination. The Masters recommendations are then submitted to a Judge to be approved or rejected. If neither party takes exceptions to the ruling of the Master then a Judge will pass an order ratifying the Masters recommendations. If one or both parties take exceptions (exceptions are similar to an appeal) with in 10 days of the recommendations of the Master then a Judge will review the transcript, hear from the parties and or take additional testimony to see if the recommendations were correct. Masters also hear uncontested divorces, again subject to the final signing of a divorce decree by a Judge. In some Courts in Maryland the Masters set a scheduling conference for the purpose of letting everyone know the schedule of events that will move their case along in the Court system. Masters are not Judges in the true sense of the word, but their functions are very similar to a Judge; only that a Judge has the final say as to what the Master for Domestic Relations recommends.
RULE 9-208. REFERRAL OF MATTERS TO MASTERS
(1) As of Course. If a court has a full-time or part-time standing master for domestic relations matters and a hearing has been requested or is required by law, the following matters arising under this Chapter shall be referred to the master as of course unless the court directs otherwise in a specific case:
(A) uncontested divorce, annulment, or alimony;
(B) alimony pendente lite;
(C) child support pendente lite;
(D) support of dependents;
(E) preliminary or pendente lite possession or use of the family home or family-use personal property;
(F) subject to Rule 9-205, pendente lite custody of or visitation with children or modification of an existing order or judgment as to custody or visitation;
(G) subject to Rule 9-205 as to child access disputes, constructive civil contempt by reason of noncompliance with an order or judgment relating to custody of or visitation with a minor child, the payment of alimony or support, or the possession or use of the family home or family-use personal property, following service of a show cause order upon the person alleged to be in contempt;
(H) modification of an existing order or judgment as to the payment of alimony or support or as to the possession or use of the family home or family-use personal property;
(I) counsel fees and assessment of court costs in any matter referred to a master under this Rule;
(J) stay of an earnings withholding order; and
(K) such other matters arising under this Chapter and set forth in the court's case management plan filed pursuant to Rule 16-202 b.
(2) By Order on Agreement of the Parties. By agreement of the parties, any other matter or issue arising under this Chapter may be referred to the master by order of the court.
(b) Powers. Subject to the provisions of an order referring a matter or issue to a master, the master has the power to regulate all proceedings in the hearing, including the power to:
(1) direct the issuance of a subpoena to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents or other tangible things;
(2) administer oaths to witnesses;
(3) rule on the admissibility of evidence;
(4) examine witnesses;
(5) convene, continue, and adjourn the hearing, as required;
(6) recommend contempt proceedings or other sanctions to the court; and
(7) recommend findings of fact and conclusions of law.
(1) Notice. A written notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be sent to all parties.
(2) Attendance of Witnesses. A party may procure by subpoena the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents or other tangible things at the hearing.
(3) Record. All proceedings before a master shall be recorded either stenographically or electronically, unless the making of the record is waived in writing by all parties. A waiver of the making of a record is also a waiver of the right to file exceptions that would require review of the record for their determination.
(d) Contempt Proceedings; Referral for De Novo Hearing. If, at any time during a hearing on a party's alleged constructive civil contempt, the master concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the party is in contempt and that incarceration may be an appropriate sanction, the master shall (1) set a de novo hearing before a judge of the circuit court, (2) cause the alleged contemnor to be served with a summons to that hearing, and (3) terminate the master's hearing without making a recommendation. If the alleged contemnor is not represented by an attorney, the date of the hearing before the judge shall be at least 20 days after the date of the master's hearing and, before the master terminates the master's hearing, the master shall advise the alleged contemnor on the record of the contents of the notice set forth in Rule 15-206 (c)(2).
(e) Findings and Recommendations.
(1) Generally. Except as otherwise provided in section (d) of this Rule, the master shall prepare written recommendations, which shall include a brief statement of the master's findings and shall be accompanied by a proposed order. The master shall notify each party of the recommendations, either on the record at the conclusion of the hearing or by written notice served pursuant to Rule 1-321. In a matter referred pursuant to subsection (a)(1) of this Rule, the written notice shall be given within ten days after the conclusion of the hearing. In a matter referred pursuant to subsection (a)(2) of this Rule, the written notice shall be given within 30 days after the conclusion of the hearing. Promptly after notifying the parties, the master shall file the recommendations and proposed order with the court.
(2) Supplementary Report. The master may issue a supplementary report and recommendations on the master's own initiative before the court enters an order or judgment. A party may file exceptions to new matters contained in the supplementary report and recommendations in accordance with section (f) of this Rule.
(f) Exceptions. Within ten days after recommendations are placed on the record or served pursuant to section (e) of this Rule, a party may file exceptions with the clerk. Within that period or within ten days after service of the first exceptions, whichever is later, any other party may file exceptions. Exceptions shall be in writing and shall set forth the asserted error with particularity. Any matter not specifically set forth in the exceptions is waived unless the court finds that justice requires otherwise.
(g) Requirements for Excepting Party. At the time the exceptions are filed, the excepting party shall do one of the following: (1) order a transcript of so much of the testimony as is necessary to rule on the exceptions, make an agreement for payment to ensure preparation of the transcript, and file a certificate of compliance stating that the transcript has been ordered and the agreement has been made; (2) file a certification that no transcript is necessary to rule on the exceptions; (3) file an agreed statement of facts in lieu of the transcript; or (4) file an affidavit of indigency and motion requesting that the court accept an electronic recording of the proceedings as the transcript. Within ten days after the entry of an order denying a motion under subsection (g)(4) of this section, the excepting party shall comply with subsection (g)(1). The transcript shall be filed within 30 days after compliance with subsection (g)(1) or within such longer time, not exceeding 60 days after the exceptions are filed, as the master may allow. For good cause shown, the court may shorten or extend the time for the filing of the transcript. The excepting party shall serve a copy of the transcript on the other party. The court may dismiss the exceptions of a party who has not complied with this section.
(h) Entry of Orders.
(1) In General. Except as provided in subsections (2) and (3) of this section,
(A) the court shall not direct the entry of an order or judgment based upon the master's recommendations until the expiration of the time for filing exceptions, and, if exceptions are timely filed, until the court rules on the exceptions; and
(B) if exceptions are not timely filed, the court may direct the entry of the order or judgment as recommended by the master.
(2) Immediate Orders. This subsection does not apply to the entry of orders in contempt proceedings. If a master finds that extraordinary circumstances exist and recommends that an order be entered immediately, the court shall review the file and any exhibits and the master's findings and recommendations and shall afford the parties an opportunity for oral argument. The court may accept, reject, or modify the master's recommendations and issue an immediate order. An order entered under this subsection remains subject to a later determination by the court on exceptions.
(3) Contempt Orders.
(A) On Recommendation by the Master. On the recommendation by the master that an individual be found in contempt, the court may hold a hearing and direct the entry of an order at any time. The order may not include a sanction of incarceration.
(B) Following a De Novo Hearing. Upon a referral from the master pursuant to section (d) of this Rule, the court shall hold a de novo hearing and enter any appropriate order.
(1) Generally. The court may decide exceptions without a hearing, unless a request for a hearing is filed with the exceptions or by an opposing party within ten days after service of the exceptions. The exceptions shall be decided on the evidence presented to the master unless: (A) the excepting party sets forth with particularity the additional evidence to be offered and the reasons why the evidence was not offered before the master, and (B) the court determines that the additional evidence should be considered. If additional evidence is to be considered, the court may remand the matter to the master to hear and consider the additional evidence or conduct a de novo hearing.
(2) When Hearing to be Held. A hearing on exceptions, if timely requested, shall be held within 60 days after the filing of the exceptions unless the parties otherwise agree in writing. If a transcript cannot be completed in time for the scheduled hearing and the parties cannot agree to an extension of time or to a statement of facts, the court may use the electronic recording in lieu of the transcript at the hearing or continue the hearing until the transcript is completed.
(j) Costs. The court, by order, may assess among the parties the compensation, fees, and costs of the master and of any transcript.
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