Jolie/Pitt Divorce Brings Private Judges into the Conversation

DivorceNewly released details of how Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt are approaching the divorce process have brought the concept of a “private judge” into water cooler conversations.

The couple announced recently in a joint statement released to The Associated Press that they have agreed to handle their divorce through a private judge:

“The parties and their counsel have signed agreements to preserve the privacy rights of their children and family by keeping all court documents confidential and engaging a private judge to make any necessary legal decisions and to facilitate the expeditious resolution of any remaining issues,” their statement read. “The parents are committed to act as a united front to effectuate recovery and reunification.”

For many who are following this breakup story, a private judge is a new concept. They have existed in the California court system since the 1980s, and it’s worth noting that private judges aren’t just for the rich and famous.

A private judge can be an attorney, but it’s typically a retired judge who is selected by both parties to determine family law or civil matters. They can schedule and hold hearings and handle discovery disputes. They also have the authority to issue restraining orders, temporary and permanent orders, and final divorce decrees, according to

Reasons people often choose a private judge to hear their case include:

  • Quicker resolution- Private judges don’t have as many cases as public judges, and that means you may get your hearings scheduled sooner, which can lead to reaching the finish line faster.
  • More experience- Family law is an intricate specialty that requires judicial officers to understand wide-ranging topics, from cash flow analysis and juvenile dependency, to bankruptcy and behavioral sciences, according to the International Academy of Family Lawyers. Public judges get appointed to specific areas of the court, so it’s possible that a judge appointed to family law lacks family law experience and must educate themselves as they go. Opting for a private judge means the attorneys for the parties can select one who has the qualifications to fit your unique issues.
  • Privacy- This surely is a consideration for Jolie and Pitt, but privacy can be a concern for people who aren’t celebrities, too. Divorce trials are open to the public. Anyone who wishes to enter the courtroom may do so. Hiring a private judge means you can share information with each other and keep it out of the public eye.

One drawback to hiring a private judge is that it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get the outcome you hope for. When the parties cannot agree on something, a hearing is held and the private judge will rule on that matter.

“Don’t hire a private judge if your only goal is to get him or her to agree with you,” says John Griffith, a Carlsbad family attorney.

If the ruling doesn’t go as you had hoped, there is one consolation: you’ll likely know exactly why. Public judges have heavy caseloads and they typically don’t have time to draft lengthy explanations regarding their rulings. That can leave you with lots of questions about why the ruling went a particular way.

A Statement of Decision can be requested from a private judge, which will give you a detailed analysis that outlines the judge’s thought process and particular evidence that he or she found persuasive.

“It’s disappointing to not get the result you hoped for, but knowing the ‘why’ behind the ruling often helps bring understanding and closure,” Griffith says.

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