Rule 1920.51. Hearing by the Court. Appointment of Master. Notice of Hearing.
(a) In an action of divorce or annulment:
(1) the court may:
(i) hear the testimony; or
(ii) upon motion of a party or of the court, appoint a master:
(A) before entry of the divorce decree to hear the testimony for the ancillary claims of alimony, equitable division of marital property, partial physical custody, supervised physical custody, counsel fees, and costs and expenses, which are raised in the pleadings, and to issue a report and recommendation, provided that grounds for divorce under Sections 3301(c) or 3301(d) of the Divorce Code have been established and approved by the court as outlined in Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.42;
(B) before approving grounds for divorce under Sections 3301(c) or 3301(d) of the Divorce Code for the limited purpose of assisting the parties and the court on issues of discovery or settlement;
(C) to hear the testimony for establishing grounds for divorce under Sections 3301(a) or 3301(b) of the Divorce Code or annulment and the ancillary claims, which are raised in the pleadings, and to issue a report and recommendation; or
(D) after a party files a counter-affidavit denying the averments in the affidavit in an action under Section 3301(c)(2) or 3301(d) of the Divorce Code, including the date of separation, to hear the testimony and to issue a report and recommendation.
(2) the court shall not appoint a master:
(i) to approve grounds for divorce under Sections 3301(c) or 3301(d) of the Divorce Code; or
See Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.42 for approving grounds for divorce under Sections 3301(c) and 3301(d) of the Divorce Code.
(ii) for the claims of legal custody, sole physical custody, primary physical custody, shared physical custody, or paternity.
Section 3321 of the Divorce Code prohibits the appointment of a master as to the claims of custody and paternity. However, as set forth in Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.91(3), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended Section 3321 insofar as that section prohibits the appointment of masters in partial physical custody cases.
(3) The Motion for the Appointment of a Master and the order shall be substantially in the form prescribed by Pa.R.C.P. No. 1920.74. The order appointing the master shall specify the issues or ancillary claims that are referred to the master.
(4) A permanent or standing master employed by or under contract with a judicial district or appointed by the court shall not practice family law before a conference officer, hearing officer, permanent or standing master, or judge of the same judicial district.
Conference officers preside at office conferences under Pa.R.C.P. No. 1910.11. Hearing officers preside at hearings under Pa.R.C.P. No. 1910.12. The appointment of master to hear actions in divorce or annulment is authorized by Section 3321 of the Divorce Code.
(b) Written notice of the hearing shall be given to each attorney of record by the master. If a master has not been appointed, the prothonotary, clerk or other officer designated by the court shall give the notice.
(c) If no attorney has appeared of record for a party, notice of the hearing shall be given to the party by the master, or if a master has not been appointed, by the prothonotary, clerk or other officer designated by the court, as follows:
(1) to the plaintiff, by ordinary mail to the address on the complaint;
(2) to the defendant,
(i) if service of the complaint was made other than pursuant to special order of court, by ordinary mail to the defendants last known address; or
(ii) if service of the complaint was made pursuant to special order of court, (a) by sending a copy of the notice by ordinary mail to the persons, if any, named in the investigation affidavit, likely to know the present whereabouts of the defendant; and (b) by sending a copy by registered mail to the defendants last known address.
Under Rule 76, registered mail includes certified mail.
(d) Advertising of notice of the hearing shall not be required.
(e) Proof of notice shall be filed of record.
Consistent with § 3301(e) of the Divorce Code as amended, these rules contemplate that if a divorce decree may be entered under the no fault provisions of § § 3301(c) or (d), a divorce decree will be entered on these grounds and no hearing shall be required on any other grounds.
While subdivision (a)(2)(ii) clearly prohibits appointment of a master to determine a divorce claim brought under § § 3301(c) or 3301(d), the provision does permit a master to hear claims which are joined with the divorce action.
The rule is amended to conform with proposed new Rules 1915.4-1 and 1915.4-2, and to remove the implied prohibition against the use of hearing officers in partial custody or visitation cases.
The rule is amended to clarify the role of the master in a divorce case when either party has asserted grounds for divorce pursuant to § 3301(c) or § 3301(d) of the Divorce Code. The rule had been interpreted in some jurisdictions as requiring the entry of a bifurcated decree before a master could be appointed to hear economic claims.
Subdivision (a)(1)(ii)(A) provides for the appointment of a master to hear, inter alia, partial physical custody cases. The authority for a master to hear partial physical custody cases is 23 Pa.C.S. § 3321, which the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended in part to allow masters to hear partial physical custody cases. However, this rule should not be construed to require a court to appoint masters in partial physical custody or supervised physical custody cases. Nor should the rule be construed as inconsistent with Pa.R.C.P. Nos. 1915.4-1, 1915.4-2, or 1915.4-3 that provide for conference officers and hearing officers in custody cases.
The provisions of this Rule 1920.51 adopted June 27, 1980, effective July 1, 1980, 10 Pa.B. 2967; amended January 28, 1983, effective July 1, 1983, 13 Pa.B. 677; amended September 29, 1989, effective October 15, 1989, 19 Pa.B. 4451; amended May 17, 1991, effective July 1, 1991, 21 Pa.B. 2615; amended March 30, 1994, effective July 1, 1994, 24 Pa.B. 1953; amended July 15, 1994, effective January 1, 1995, 24 Pa.B. 3803; amended September 11, 1995, effective January 1, 1996, 25 Pa.B. 4097; amended July 8, 2010, effective September 6, 2010, 40 Pa.B. 4140; amended March 4, 2015, effective in 30 days on April 3, 2015, 45 Pa.B. 1354; amended July 30, 2018, effective January 1, 2019, 48 Pa.B. 4960; amended June 3, 2019, effective October 1, 2019, 49 Pa.B. 3059. Immediately preceding text appears at serial pages (394398) to (394399).
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