Using a Private Judge in Alabama Divorce Proceedings
At the beginning of 2012, the Alabama legislature passed Act 2012-266, which authorizes the appointment of former or retired judges to serve as private judges in certain non-jury district and circuit court cases, including domestic relations cases. The law went into effect July 1, allowing both sides in a divorce and custody proceeding to agree on a private judge to preside and rule on their case.
Under the new law, a private judge list is maintained by the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution. Judges on the list must have at least six years of experience on the bench and in the area of law for which they are being hired. There are currently 22 judges from around Alabama on the list.
Like any other divorce case, once a private judge is hired, both sides continue to file motions through the Alabama state court system and the private judge’s rulings are entered into the state court system. At the end of the case, if one party doesn’t agree with the ruling, he or she can appeal to the state appeals courts.
As reported by AL.com (online home of the The Huntsville Times), the private judge law hasn’t gotten much attention in Alabama, with only two divorce cases being handled by private judges thus far — one in August and one in November. However, once more attorneys and parties become aware of the new law, and the benefits of hiring a private judge, it is likely to become more popular.
What are the benefits of hiring a private judge in a divorce case?
According to former Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge R. A. “Sonny” Ferguson, who pushed to get the bill drafted, there are several advantages to hiring private judges in certain civil and domestic trials. Perhaps most importantly, it can cut down on the backlog of cases and relieve overcrowded court dockets.
For parties involved in a case, this can save substantial time and money. There’s no risk of preparing a case for trial only to find out that the trial must be delayed. With a private judge, a case can generally be heard — and resolved — much more quickly.
Another benefit is that a private judge, unlike an elected official, is devoted to only one case at a time. As Ferguson told AL.com, the judge is “able to render a decision in a timely fashion without having to juggle 10 to 15 other orders…at the same time.”
Contact an Experienced Alabama Divorce Lawyer
If you live in the Huntsville-Decatur area and are considering divorce, contact Lana Hawkins, Attorney at Law at The Hawkins Law Firm in Arab for legal guidance from an experienced Alabama family law attorney. Now and in the days ahead, you need to explore your options and protect your rights.