A question which is often not considered in divorce cases is whether you should continue to have the public family court system preside over your case, or if your case is better suited for a private judge.
Private Judges are often used in high asset dissolution cases; however, this is only the only case when a private judge is used. Below are some things which are worth considering in determining whether a private judge would be a good choice in your case. If after reviewing the thoughts below, you remain unsure whether a private judge may be a good option in your case, Mendes Weed, LLP can help you decide.
The Duration of Divorce
Most cases which incorporate a private judge tend to move through the dissolution process more quickly. A dissolution case which uses a private judge has more immediate access to a private individual, who can make decisions and orders in a divorce case. This individual would have more time to understand your case and make decisions reasoned on time with the case. In addition, a majority of public court systems are impacted, largely due to budget constraints. This also lends itself to regular delays in getting heard in court and getting a decision.
Experience Can Mean A LOT
Yes, I said experience. But they are all experienced, right? Not necessarily. Most private judges in family law cases were once family law attorneys themselves. They have more extensive, hands-on knowledge of family law cases, and they dynamics within them. This can help a judge make more reasoned decisions in a case. Judges are either appointed or elected. While they have legal experience, it is not certain they will have the experience in areas of family law, which could impact their decision. For some judges, the last time they had experience with family law, they were studying for their Bar Exam. The public court system does not guarantee you a judge who knows family, or even one who has been a judge for long. You do not have a choice who presides over your case in a public court setting; however, with a stipulation from both parties, you can choose which private judge you would like to work with in your divorce.
Downsides to Consider
Private judges cost money, where access to the public court system is a right. While in the public court system, you will likely pay court fees, the access to the Judge is not additional. Private judges can be costly, sometimes charging as much as attorneys, or more. Depending on the complexity of the case, coupled with the maintenance of individual counsel for both parties, this can become very pricey.
What About Attorney’s Fees
The California Family Code allows for an aware of attorney’s fees as sanctions under Family Code Section 271. Private judges are just that, private. They are paid by their clients, and while it is in their best interest to remain neutral, their conduct can lead to an attorney’s unwillingness to use that private judge in the future. If your spouse and his/her attorney seek sanctions in the form of attorney’s fees, which are (in your spouse’s opinion) unwarranted, it is likely that the spouse’s counsel may opt out of using that private judge in the future.
Deciding whether to use a private judge is an important decision and selecting one which has a professional reputation in the community can be difficult. You will need a judge who can make the difficult decisions and rulings, regardless of how those rulings may impact the judge’s business. Choose wisely.
The tips and materials provided on this page are for informational purposes only, offered as public service. No information on this website should be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, you should contact an attorney directly.
Mendes Weed, LLP offices are located in Walnut Creek and our skilled attorneys provide family, tax, business and trust law assistance for clients. For your convenience, we also have attorneys' offices in San Francisco and Sacramento by appointment only.
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