For those who have never heard of the concept of hiring a private judge, the idea can seem absurd at first. It may even smack of some illegal scheme to trick people out of their money. The truth, however, is that hiring a private judge to handle a divorce is a perfectly legitimate and legal option that comes with a host of attractive benefits – for those who can afford one.
The California Code of Civil Procedure and the State Constitution both grant residents of California the right to hire a private judge (also called a referee) to preside over and make binding decisions concerning their divorce. Their decision will be enforced as if a public divorce court had written it. You can have this judge handle the whole divorce, or only specific portions of it, as your case may require.
Perhaps the greatest advantage that comes from hiring your own judge is the flexibility involved. You would not have to schedule your divorce proceedings around the availability of a public court – which can shorten the process considerably, sometimes by several months.
Another tremendous advantage is the privacy factor. While divorce in court is as public as any other legal proceeding, the negotiations and deliberations before a private judge are just like a business dispute arbitration. This alone could make the cost worth it for privacy-conscious couples, especially those with considerable assets to divide and other sensitive matters to address.
Perhaps the only downside to hiring a private divorce judge is the cost involved. A private judge often costs more than an attorney’s fees, which can nearly double the cost of your divorce. If your private judge charges hourly, rather than a fixed fee, the cost of the transaction can increase dramatically if you have complex assets that require extensive litigation to divide up adequately.
While a private judge is not within the means of many, it can be a highly advantageous option for those who are willing to assume the additional expense. It’s just one more way that divorcing couples can exercise a greater amount of control over the conditions of their divorce proceedings.