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What a private judge can -- and can't -- do for divorcing couples

Here in Los Angeles, people sometimes read about celebrity couples hiring private judges to oversee their divorces. However, you don't need to star on a TV show or have an Oscar to hire a private judge.

You also don't need to be a multimillionaire -- although you will need to spend some money. However, if your time is valuable to you, it may be worth your while.

Private judges help people from all walks of life settle civil matters - usually, but not exclusively, those related to family law. By hiring a judge, a couple can finalize their divorce more quickly than if they had to wait for a judge's time to free up in LA's busy court system.

Further, by hiring a private judge, you help ensure your privacy. Even if TMZ wouldn't be interested in your finances and more personal aspects of your life, a business rival or local reporter might be. Information can leak out of even closed court proceedings.

It's essential to understand that even though these judges are hired by individuals (through their attorneys), they have the same obligation to follow the law as if they were in a courtroom. You can't "buy" a private judge to rule in your favor. However, you can find one that you and your spouse are comfortable with.

In a divorce case, the couple agrees on which judge to hire, often based on the advice of their attorneys. The couple typically splits the judge's fee. The court then needs to approve the couple's choice.

The people who serve as private judges are often retired from the bench. Some private judges are practicing attorneys. In their role as a judge, however, they aren't acting on behalf of one party or the other.

If you and your spouse are in a high-conflict divorce or still have some issues that remain unsettled, a private judge is likely not for you. However, if you've agreed on how to divide your property and on issues like child custody and support, a private judge can help you finalize your divorce in hours and move on with your lives rather than face months of sporadic court dates.

If you're weighing the pros and cons of hiring a private judge, talk with your family law attorney. They can help you determine whether this option would be a good fit for your situation.

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