Mediation and Litigation Before Private Judges

Not all family law matters should be litigated in the public court system. Mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method may be appropriate to resolve divorce, child custody, paternity and other types of family law matters. The benefits of mediation include greater privacy, a less adversarial process and, potentially, much lower costs.

As a general rule, mediation communications are strictly confidential, cannot be obtained by discovery and cannot be admitted as evidence in court. The confidential nature of mediation can be especially important for celebrities, corporate executives and other high profile individuals whose personal affairs may be of interest to large segments of the public. Because mediation confidentiality facilitates open and candid discussions, mediation can increase the likelihood of successful settlement negotiations for a broad array of litigants, often helping to resolve even the most contentious cases by agreement.

While some family law matters are handled exclusively through mediation, it is more common for cases to be initiated in the court system and eventually move to mediation for resolution of some or all of the issues, after the litigants have gathered sufficient information through the discovery process. At that time, the parties and their counsel may hire a respected retired family law judge to act as a mediator in a settlement conference, which may lead to a settlement.

Mediators are required to be neutral. They cannot favor one party over another, or give legal advice to either party. For that reason, a person who chooses mediation should have a family law attorney. The role of the family law attorney may be as broad as handling every aspect of the mediated process, or as limited as privately consulting with a self-represented client on an as-needed basis.

Even in cases where mediation is not appropriate, a party may prefer to litigate in a more private setting. Litigating the case before a privately compensated retired judicial officer may be the preferred solution. One major advantage of taking the matter out of the congested public court system is that the proceedings can be scheduled according to the needs of the clients and attorneys at the offices of counsel or the private judge. This allows the case to proceed more comfortably and efficiently. The private judge process also allows parties to retain a mutually acceptable judicial officer who is known to have extensive family law experience. Additionally, although the matter technically is a matter of public record, a case tried before a private judge is far less likely to draw public attention than a case tried at the public courthouse.

Jaffe and Clemens has a long history of working with the most respected and experienced retired family law judicial officers in California. The firm’s reputation for integrity and skill translates to increased credibility for its clients, whether in mediation or before a private judge.