RULE 12.490 GENERAL MASTERS
(a) General Masters. Judges of the circuit court may appoint as many general masters from among the members of The Florida Bar in the circuit as the judges find necessary, and the general masters shall continue in office until removed by the court. The order making an appointment shall be recorded. Every person appointed as a general master shall take the oath required of officers by the Constitution and the oath shall be recorded before the master discharges any duties of that office.
(1) No matter shall be heard by a general master without an appropriate order of reference and the consent to the referral of all parties. Consent, as defined in this rule, to a specific referral, once given, cannot be withdrawn without good cause shown before the hearing on the merits of the matter referred. Consent may be express or may be implied in accordance with the requirements of this rule.
(A) A written objection to the referral to a general master must be filed within 10 days of the service of the order of referral.
(B) If the time set for the hearing is less than 10 days after service of the order of referral, the objection must be filed before commencement of the hearing.
(C) If the order of referral is served within the first 20 days after the service of the initial process, the time to file an objection is extended to the time within which to file a responsive pleading.
(D) Failure to file a written objection within the applicable time period is deemed to be consent to the order of referral.
(2) The order of referral shall be in substantial conformity with Family Law Form 12.920(a), and shall contain the following language in bold type:
A REFERRAL TO A GENERAL MASTER REQUIRES THE CONSENT OF ALL PARTIES. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO HAVE THIS MATTER HEARD BEFORE A JUDGE. IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THIS MATTER HEARD BEFORE THE GENERAL MASTER, YOU MUST FILE A WRITTEN OBJECTION TO THE REFERRAL WITHIN 10 DAYS OF THE TIME OF SERVICE OF THIS ORDER. IF THE TIME SET FOR THE HEARING IS LESS THAN 10 DAYS AFTER THE SERVICE OF THIS ORDER, THE OBJECTION MUST BE MADE BEFORE THE HEARING. IF THIS ORDER IS SERVED WITHIN THE FIRST 20 DAYS AFTER SERVICE OF PROCESS, THE TIME TO FILE AN OBJECTION IS EXTENDED TO THE TIME WITHIN WHICH A RESPONSIVE PLEADING IS DUE. FAILURE TO FILE A WRITTEN OBJECTION WITHIN THE APPLICABLE TIME PERIOD IS DEEMED TO BE A CONSENT TO THE REFERRAL.
REVIEW OF THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY THE GENERAL MASTER SHALL BE BY EXCEPTIONS AS PROVIDED IN RULE 12.490(f), FLA. FAM. L. R. P. A RECORD, WHICH INCLUDES A TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS, MAY BE REQUIRED TO SUPPORT THE EXCEPTIONS.
(3) The order of referral shall state with specificity the matter or matters being referred and the name of the general master to whom the matter is referred. The order of referral also shall state whether electronic recording or a court reporter is provided by the court, or whether a court reporter, if desired, must be provided by the litigants.
(4) When a reference is made to a general master, any party or the general master may set the action for hearing.
(c) General Powers and Duties. Every general master shall perform all of the duties that pertain to the office according to the practice in chancery and rules of court and under the direction of the court except those duties related to domestic and repeat violence. A general master shall be empowered to administer oaths and conduct hearings, which may include the taking of evidence. All grounds for disqualification of a judge shall apply to general masters.
(1) The general master shall assign a time and place for proceedings as soon as reasonably possible after the reference is made and give notice to each of the parties either directly or by directing counsel to file and serve a notice of hearing. If any party fails to appear, the general master may proceed ex parte or may adjourn the proceeding to a future day, giving notice to the absent party of the adjournment. The general master shall proceed with reasonable diligence in every reference and with the least delay practicable. Any party may apply to the court for an order to the general master to speed the proceedings and to make the report and to certify to the court the reason for any delay.
(2) The general master shall take testimony and establish a record which may be by electronic means as provided by Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.070(d) or by a court reporter. The parties may not waive this requirement.
(3) The general master shall have authority to examine under oath the parties and all witnesses upon all matters contained in the reference to require production of all books, papers, writings, vouchers, and other documents applicable to it, and to examine on oath orally all witnesses produced by the parties. The general master may take all actions concerning evidence that can be taken by the circuit court and in the same manner. The general master shall have the same powers as a circuit judge to utilize communications equipment as defined and regulated by Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.071.
(4) The notice or order setting the cause for hearing shall be in substantial conformity with Family Law Form 12.920(b) and shall contain the following language in bold type:
SHOULD YOU WISH TO SEEK REVIEW OF THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION MADE BY THE GENERAL MASTER, YOU MUST FILE EXCEPTIONS IN ACCORDANCE WITH RULE 12.490(f), FLA. FAM. L. R. P. YOU WILL BE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE THE COURT WITH A RECORD SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT YOUR EXCEPTIONS OR YOUR EXCEPTIONS WILL BE DENIED. A RECORD ORDINARILY INCLUDES A WRITTEN TRANSCRIPT OF ALL RELEVANT PROCEEDINGS. THE PERSON SEEKING REVIEW MUST HAVE THE TRANSCRIPT PREPARED IF NECESSARY FOR THE COURT'S REVIEW.
(5) The notice or order setting a matter for hearing shall state whether electronic recording or a court reporter is provided by the court. If the court provides electronic recording, the notice also shall state that any party may provide a court reporter at that party's expense.
(e) General Master's Report. The general master shall file a report that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law, together with recommendations. If a court reporter was present, the report shall contain the name and address of the reporter.
(f) Filing Report; Notice; Exceptions. The general master shall file the report and recommendations and serve copies on all parties. The parties may serve exceptions to the report within 10 days from the time it is served on them. Any party may file cross-exceptions within 5 days from the service of the exceptions, provided, however, that the filing of cross-exceptions shall not delay the hearing on the exceptions unless good cause is shown. If no exceptions are filed within that period, the court shall take appropriate action on the report. If exceptions are filed, they shall be heard on reasonable notice by either party or the court.
(g) Record. For the purpose of the hearing on exceptions, a record, substantially in conformity with this rule, shall be provided to the court by the party seeking review if necessary for the court's review.
(1) The record shall consist of the court file, including the transcript of the relevant proceedings before the general master and all depositions and evidence presented to the general master.
(2) The transcript of all relevant proceedings, if any, shall be delivered to the judge and provided to all other parties not less than 48 hours before the hearing on exceptions. If less than a full transcript of the proceedings taken before the general master is ordered prepared by the excepting party, that party shall promptly file a notice setting forth the portions of the transcript that have been ordered. The responding parties shall be permitted to designate any additional portions of the transcript necessary to the adjudication of the issues raised in the exceptions or cross-exceptions.
(3) The cost of the original and all copies of the transcript of the proceedings shall be borne initially by the party seeking review, subject to appropriate assessment of suit monies. Should any portion of the transcript be required as a result of a designation filed by the responding party, the party making the designation shall bear the initial cost of the additional transcript.
1995 Adoption. This rule is a modification of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.490. That rule governed the appointment of both general and special masters. The appointment of special masters is now governed by Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.492. This rule is intended to clarify procedures that were required under rule 1.490, and it creates additional procedures. The use of general masters should be implemented only when such use will reduce costs and expedite cases in accordance with Dralus v. Dralus, 627 So. 2d 505 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993), Wrona v. Wrona, 592 So. 2d 694 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991), and Katz v. Katz, 505 So. 2d 25 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987).
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