Beals v. Beals

Beals v. Beals, 2013 MT 120 (May 2, 2013) (5-0) (McKinnon, J.)

Issue:  Whether a party may appeal directly to this Court from the decision of a standing master.

Short Answer: No.

Appeal dismissed

Facts: Katherine and Jason were married in 2004, and separated in 2009. During their marriage, they had three children and accumulated real and personal property. Katherine filed for dissolution in 2010.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The matter came before Standing Master Bowen for a contested two-day hearing in June 2012. Katherine was represented by counsel, and Jason appeared pro se. In February 2013, the standing master issued her findings and conclusions, and final decree, which incorporated the final parenting plan. Jason retained counsel, and appealed to this Court and the district court, but did not filed objections to the standings master’s findings and conclusions within the 10-day period prescribed by § 3-5-126(2), MCA. Katherine moves to dismiss Jason’s appeal, and the Court grants her motion.

Reasoning: The Eighteenth Judicial District refers all domestic relations cases to a standing master based on a standing order, which is consistent with statutes governing standing masters. Although a special master has the same power and authority as a district judge, § 3-5-113, MCA, a standing master does not. § 3-5-136, MCA provides that a standing master’s findings and conclusions or order must be objected to in the district court, after which the court may hold a hearing, and adopt, reject, or modify the findings and conclusions or order. An appeal to this Court is allowed only from the district court’s review. Because Jason did not file objections with the district court, the district court has not entered a final decision and this appeal is not ripe.