Court systems in Texas and all across the country are feeling the pinch of budget cuts. According the National Center for State Courts, 29 state court systems face budget cuts in 2011. These cuts likely result in layoffs and longer wait times for getting a case heard.
In particular those involved in civil matters, such as divorce and child custody cases, may face longer wait times. In response to such delays some people are choosing to use a little-known option: they are hiring private judges to hear their cases. Texas is one of five states that allow parties to use private judges. Many Texans do not know about the option of private judging in Texas and how they might benefit from using a private judge in their family law matters.
Private Judges in Texas
The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows parties to use private judges in civil and family law matters if both parties agree. Upon the motion of the parties to the district judge assigned to the matter, the judge will issue an order that a private judge will hear the case on a given date and time and stay the matter in the district court pending the outcome of that hearing.
Private judges are retired district judges who served on the bench at least four years. Private judges have all of the same powers as a district judge in Texas, such as ruling on motions, issuing temporary orders, issuing temporary injunctions and holding bench trials. The only thing a private judge cannot do is hold a jury trial. Therefore, in the parties’ motion to the district judge to request a private judge, the parties must waive their right to a jury trial.
Once a private judge issues a decision in a matter it is final and binding. The decision stands as if it were issued by the district court judge. If the parties wish to appeal, they must do so to a Texas Court of Appeals.
Benefits of Using a Private Judge in Texas Family Law Cases
There are many benefits to using a private judge in a family law matter such as divorce or child custody case. Among the benefits are:
- Saving time: parties can ensure that the case heard faster than if they waited for the district court, usually within one month – this is especially important for family law issues so that people can resolve matters on move on with their lives
- Ease of scheduling: the parties are not at the mercy of the court’s schedule so they can pick a date and time that is least intrusive in their lives
- Saving money: some may balk at the initial cost of hiring a private judge, but by guaranteeing that the hearing will occur at a certain date and time, clients may actually reduce their costs in that they do not have to pay the lawyers and expert witnesses to prepare for trial several times only to have the matter delayed again and again in district court
- Picking a judge: the parties have the chance to make sure they have a judge they know and trust to rule fairly
- Privacy: private judges are not allowed to hear cases in the courthouse, so the hearing takes place in more private locations – this may be more comfortable for the sensitive topics that often come up in family law matters
The events that led to the court date are turbulent enough without the added stress of trying to figure out when the case will finally be heard. If you are involved in a family law matter do not hesitate to contact an attorney who can discuss the options available to you including private judging.