What is a "Private Judge," and Should I Use One During my California Divorce?

What is a “Private Judge,” and Should I Use One During my California Divorce?

In a traditional California divorce, one or both parties can file for divorce, and a county court judge will be assigned to oversee the matter. However, Californians also have another option—hiring a private judge to hear their case. If you are considering or are in the process of divorce, you may be asking: What is a private judge, and should I use one during my California divorce?

Hiring a California Private Judge for Your Divorce Case

A private judge, also known as a “neutral” or “judge pro tem,” is an individual that parties can hire to decide their legal case. Private judges hired for divorce cases are often retired family court judges. These individuals often also work as family law mediators. However, unlike mediators, private judges have the power to make the same decisions in a divorce case as superior court judges. By contrast, mediators can’t rule on the issues in the case. Instead, their role is to help facilitate a voluntary agreement between the parties.

Do Private Judges Follow the Same Rules as Public Judges?

California county family courts specially appoint private judges granting them the required authority and jurisdiction to make legally-binding rulings in a case. Generally, the same California laws, rules, and procedures apply in a proceeding overseen by a private judge as a public court. Consequently, parties who choose to hire someone will still have to disclose required information and present admissible evidence to support their requested relief.

Why Hire a Private Judge for Your Divorce?

There are numerous reasons why California divorcing parties may elect to hire a private judge.

  • Efficiency—First, parties who elect to use a private judge typically don’t have to wait as long to have their cases heard. Depending on the complexity of your case, a public court case may take several months to be heard on the docket. On the day of the hearing, you may have to wait several hours only to have your hearing reset. Even if your case is heard, a public court judge may not rule on the issues for days, weeks, or even months. By contrast, private proceedings occur when scheduled by the parties, and since the judge is only hearing one case, they are more likely to issue prompt rulings.


  • Expertise—Second, private judges tend to be individuals with specialized experience in their area. Therefore, a private judge overseeing a divorce case is more likely to be knowledgeable about family law and related issues. While it’s possible that a public court judge may also understand California family and divorce law, they may not be as experienced or familiar with the area as a specialized private judge. When you hire a private judge, you have the power to select someone who has the best qualifications to hear your divorce case.


  • Privacy—Third, unlike traditional court hearings, private judge cases do not have to be conducted publicly. This can be an appealing option for those who want to conduct their hearings without other court attendees being able to hear their private and personal case details.


  • Economics—Fourth, although the parties pay a private judge for their services, they may be able to save money on attorney’s fees by using this more efficient process. It can be costly when a case takes several hours or multiple hearing dates to be completed. By contrast, private judge heard cases are not subject to the same delays as a public court’s multi-case docket.


  • Attention—Fifth, private judges can give the parties and their cases their undivided attention. For some parties, having the focused attention of a private decisionmaker is far preferable to being one of several cases a public court may hear on a given day.


  • Comfort and Convenience—Sixth, private judges don’t have to hold cases in a crowded and uncomfortable public courtroom. Instead, these cases can be held and decided in a setting that is more comfortable for those involved. Additionally, private judge hearings may be virtual or in-person, depending on the parties’ preferences. Divorce can be stressful. Using a private judge can help reduce the tension by making the process more accommodating and convenient.

Hiring a private judge to hear your California divorce case may be a good option for your circumstances. However, you may also want to consider using a public court. The best way to evaluate the judicial options for your California divorce is by working with an experienced California divorce attorney. Your counsel can help you examine your case and determine what works best for you and your circumstances.

Contact a California Divorce Attorney

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced divorce attorneys who can help you assess the suitability of using a private judge and your other available case options. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.


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