Using a Private Judge in a Divorce Proceeding

Jennifer Garner is an American actress. She became famous for her role as Sydney Bristol in the ABC Television series Alias. She continued her success in feature films such as 13 Going on 30, and the superhero films Daredevil and Electra.

Garner met fellow actor (and fellow superhero star) Ben Affleck and began dating in 2004. They married in 2005. They have three children, a daughter age 12, a daughter age 10, and a son age 6. The couple separated in 2015, and Garner filed for divorce in 2017.

On October 4, 2018, according to the website TMZ, Garner asked that her divorce filings be removed from the Los Angeles County court system and be controlled by a private judge. By hiring a private judge, her marriage to Affleck could be decided much quicker than going through the usual court process.

But what is a private judge, and would it be in my best interests to use one for my divorce?

The California State Constitution allows parties to take their case to a private judge, just as long as the private judge has the qualifications to serve as a judge in a public court. After agreeing to a specific private judge, a Stipulation for Appointment is signed by all parties and their attorneys, and the private judge. It is then sent to the presiding judge of the county where the case is pending. After the presiding judge approves and signs the order, the private judge has all of the powers of a sitting Superior Court judge for that case only.

Whether a private judge would help in a specific divorce case, depends on the issues in that case. Can the parties agree on settling their issues? If not, can the parties afford to hire a private judge? If the case is contentious, the legal fees – now including a judge’s fees – will be very expensive, more so than in public court.

If the parties can agree to work with the private judge to settle their case, the parties will share in many benefits. Not only will they save on judge’s fees, but they’ll also be able to work directly with the judge (and their attorneys, of course) in a more informal setting.

Keep in mind that the judge retains all the powers under the law that a currently-sitting court judge holds, and he or she can and will make orders for the parties to follow.

Another major benefit to the parties is the time factor. Having your own judge can reduce time when trying to get hearing dates and/or access to the judge. This can lessen the wait time significantly. (Again, remember, there is a minimum six-month waiting period before any divorce judgment can be finalized.)

Also, private judges are experts in family law, and can prevent technical errors in filing paperwork through the court system. A technical error will result in a rejection of the paperwork and can cost the parties months in lost time.

After the parties have agreed to their settlement, the Final Judgment is filed with the court system and the parties are divorced.

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