Open Monday - Friday, 8:30am - 5:00pm

Why Hollywood Stars Use Private Judges for Divorces

For some reason, when a Hollywood star or other celebrity gets a divorce, it is major news for the world. The intimate details of a celebrity’s life can be enthralling for many people. However, if you’ve ever read a news article detailing a celebrity’s divorce, you may notice that a “private judge” is often involved.

Take this excerpt from an article about Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie’s divorce, for example:

“The court in Los Angeles just approved the couple keeping their upcoming custody trial behind closed doors, and approved the private judge that the couple wanted to preside over the case.” (Emphasis added).

Additionally, this People Magazine article about Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner’s divorce noted, “The pair met at Garner’s home with lawyers and a private judge…” (Emphasis added).

So what exactly is a private judge, and why do celebrities use them?

What Are Private Judges?

A private judge can act as a temporary judge that the parties in a divorce can pay to preside over their case or informally mediate their dispute.[1] They are a kind of judge-for-hire that sits in place of their official public counterparts. Private judges are typically retired public judges or lawyers who have been in practice for many years.

If you think “judge-for-hire” sounds a little shady, you are not the only one. In fact, a lawyer who currently has a private law practice may also serve as a private judge in one case while representing litigants in a completely different case – sometimes in the same week!

Some people think the private judging option creates a separate judicial system for a sort of modern aristocracy, creating class division. Fortunately, a private judge must adhere to the same ethical rules as official judges. This aspect of private judging is what makes them different from arbitrators who have somewhat looser ethical restrictions.

Why Do Celebrities Use Private Judges?

Private judges were initially used to ease the backlog on official judicial dockets around the turn of the 21st century. Divorce and family law cases were one of the heaviest dockets since marriage was such a common practice – with divorce essentially only being half as common.

The backlog of family law courts in California is notorious and is one of the primary reasons why private judges exist. This is a fact that no one is trying to hide. Case in point: a TMZ article about Chris Pratt and Anna Faris explicitly references this purpose, saying “there’s a huge backlog in the court system and it takes forever to get a final divorce judgment. A private judge speeds things along.”

However, expediency isn’t the only reason why celebrities use private judges. Private judges are often hired to mediate disputes between divorcing spouses.[2] Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) involving the use of less formal negotiations to reach a compromise between the parties. The parties may agree to let the private judge subsequently preside over more formal proceedings on issues the spouses could not resolve through the mediation process.

Privacy is a scarce resource for many celebrities. Therefore keeping the details of their private lives confidential is a major concern for public figures like Hollywood stars, the CEO of Amazon, and politicians in general. All of them have delicate reputations that could be seriously damaged if any unappealing details of their barely-private lives leak to the public. As a result, famous public figures turn to private judges who can informally and confidentially mediate their dispute, but also make authoritative rulings if necessary.[3]

Are Private Judges Only Available to the Super Wealthy?

One of the biggest factors that prevents a more widespread use of private judges is their cost. In general, both parties are responsible for paying private judging fees. However, in practice, one party ends up paying a lot more if not all of the fees. Although paying for a private judge sounds more costly, the efficiency and expediency associated with private judges might balance out expenses that arise from the drawn-out litigation and court fees of taking your case to a public court.

Moreover, private judges can essentially make “house calls,” turning your home into the judicial forum in which your divorce issues will be decided. Deciding whether to use a private judge for your divorce requires an experienced and sophisticated understanding of the litigation process for family law cases and the pros and cons of various ADR methods, including private judging.

Consult a Knowledgeable Attorney at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara Today

If you are facing a divorce and are concerned about efficiency, you should get in touch with a skilled lawyer at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara. We have years of experience handling various issues related to family law, including divorce, child custody and support, spousal support, and property division. We are committed to ensuring you and your family’s legal rights and interests are adequately protected and duly promoted.

Call us at (949) 229-8546 or contact our office onlineto set up a case evaluation with one of our attorneys today.


[1] Some temporary judges work pro bono, but privately compensated temporary judges are commonly called “private judges.” See Hayward v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.App.5th 10, 18 (2016) (The parties agreed to the appointment of a “judge pro tempore—commonly referred to as a ‘private judge…’”).

[2] “A privately compensated private judge may also wear two hats, if the parties agree. He or she can facilitate negotiations for resolution of issues, rather than require the formalities which apublic court would require…If such negotiations do not result in an agreement, the temporary judge can then hear the matter in a formal, evidentiary fashion.”15

[3] “Although the requirement for use of a privately compensated temporary judge provides that the public may attend any such proceedings, in practice, that seldom happens and therefore the parties enjoy a degree of privacy that would otherwise not be available.” Id.

Categories: