Litigation is one of the most common methods for resolving divorce proceedings. This process allows couples to have their case heard by an official, usually a justiciary officer, who can issue legally binding rulings regarding disputes, including child custody, spousal support, and asset division. However, many people feel uncomfortable with the public nature of pursuing a divorce in family courts.
If you need to litigate your divorce, California offers a valuable alternative to the public court system. You can choose to hire a private judge to oversee your case and issue rulings. Private judging can protect your privacy, reduce delays in your divorce, and potentially result in more equitable judgments.
What Is a Private Judge?
Private judges, also known as temporary judges, are typically retired judicial officers with significant experience overseeing civil or family law disputes. They have the same rights and obligations when handling a legal dispute as a justice in a public court. They are also held to the same standards of proof to protect the rights of all parties involved.
Temporary judges may issue legally binding rulings and orders, issue penalties, and otherwise decide cases that litigants choose to bring before them. Their decisions are considered legally binding and enforceable by appellate courts.
California law permits parties to hire private judges to oversee matters of law that do not have the potential to result in incarceration. This was first allowed to reduce pressure on overcrowded courts throughout the state several decades ago, but it has remained within the law ever since.
They offer significant flexibility compared to public courts because they can select what cases they wish to oversee. Most private judges handle significantly fewer cases than those in public courtrooms, allowing them to give each case more attention and time.
Unless you have signed a contract stating otherwise, you are never obligated to agree to your case being heard by a private judge. In matters like divorce, for example, you may request that the issue is litigated in public court even if your spouse prefers that it is handled by a temporary judge. The exception would be if you signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement with the full knowledge that you were consenting to have a potential future divorce litigated by a temporary judge.
The Differences Between Private Judges and Public Courts
There are several differences between litigating matters in a public court or with a temporary judge. The most important include:
- Cost: As temporary judges do not operate through the public court system, they are compensated by their litigants. This is an additional cost that is not present in public cases. However, if working with one shortens the timeline of your split, it may save you money overall.
- Choice: You do not receive a choice regarding the judge overseeing your case in a public court. The court will assign your case to whichever judge is available. When working with a temporary judge, you can select someone you and your partner agree upon.
- Scheduling: Temporary judges have complete control over their schedule, unlike public courts. That allows these professionals to take on fewer cases and give each case the attention it deserves. It also allows you to schedule hearings more quickly than in overcrowded public courts.
Who May Benefit From Working With a Private Judge?
Many people may benefit from choosing to work with a private judge. The additional attention, discretion, and efficiency offered by these judges can be invaluable. You may find that hiring a private judge to oversee your divorce is the best solution if you fall into one of the following categories.
Couples With Significant Assets
If you have significant marital property, a private judge may help you resolve your divorce disputes more equitably and with less stress. High-asset divorces require careful attention to detail to ensure both parties receive their rightful share of the assets under California law. This is true whether or not there is a prenuptial or postnuptial in place.
Private litigation ensures your case receives the attention it deserves. The judge will have the time to thoroughly examine and understand every aspect of your dispute and the contracts and assets involved. As such, they will be better prepared to issue rulings that address all relevant concerns.
Spouses in the Public Eye
Similarly, if you or your spouse is frequently in the public eye, temporary judges may help you reclaim your privacy during this difficult time. Many high-profile celebrities and public officials opt to have their divorces overseen by temporary judges to ensure details of their finances and disputes remain private. You will be able to litigate your divorce and have it fully addressed by the temporary judge without risking details of your personal life becoming a matter of public record that can be published for anyone to read.
People With Tight Timelines
You may also benefit from a temporary judge if you have a tight timeline for your separation. Temporary judges remove the necessity of scheduling hearings or trials in a specific county court. You will not have to risk delays due to crowded courts or conflicting schedules. You and your spouse will be able to work directly with the judge and your attorneys to schedule times and locations for each hearing that meet your needs.
As a result, you will face significantly fewer delays in dissolving your marriage. Many people who choose private litigation finalize all aspects of their divorce before the end of California’s mandatory six-month waiting period. This minimizes the time you will spend on the process and allows you to move on with your life as soon as possible.
Experienced Legal Representation Before Private Judges
If you are interested in working with a private judge, it is to your benefit to work with divorce attorneys who are experienced in private litigation. At Madigan & Lewis, LLP, we have years of experience guiding clients like you through divorces with discretion in various litigation settings. Schedule your consultation today to discover how our expert attorneys can provide you with strategic, responsive, and solution-oriented legal counsel when you litigate your divorce through a private judge.