By Douglas J. Manning, Partner, Certified Specialist in Family Law
There has been some press coverage over the past couple of months about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s marital breakup and their fight about the children. However, the amount of coverage has been far less than in a lot of Hollywood divorce cases.
Why is this?
While there have been hints in the gossip media about differences in parenting styles and priorities and the possibility of infidelities (one or more), statements coming from both parties suggest that they want to make the emotional health and wellbeing of their children the number one priority of the split up process. They have decided to use an alternative to the public legal system to settle their differences. Brad, Angelina and their lawyers decided to use a “private court” process so that they can keep control of the process and avoid the sensationalism that often accompanies these Hollywood breakups.
A private court is the same as using an arbitrator to assist disputing parties in resolving their differences. The process is private in that there are no public court filings (except perhaps the documents that start the divorce and the documents that resolve the issues – but this is not necessary in all cases).
The parties get to choose their “judge” or arbitrator. If the matter involves sensitive child development issues related to the children’s attachment to each parent or one or more children’s special developmental disabilities, then the parties can select a judge with considerable experience with these topics. Conversely, if the separation involves complicated financial issues, then the parties and their lawyers can agree on a judge/arbitrator who is comfortable in dealing with these sorts of issues.
The “trial” can proceed in much the same way as a public trial does. The parties can call witnesses who will give evidence and be cross-examined by the lawyers. Also, the parties can agree to retain the services of experts – such as child psychologists (if the issues involved complicated children’s issues) or certified business valuators (if the issues are financial). But none of this becomes public and the parties sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Readers may be now thinking – but this “private” court process is just for the rich or famous. Not true. The private court or arbitration process can be used to avoid some of the costly and time consuming steps that are required in the public court process. Also, using your own, private process means that you can schedule the steps in your case as quickly as is necessary to meet your needs for a quick, or not-so-quick, resolution. You are not handcuffed by the public system that sets the calendar for when judges are available and when cases will be heard.
So before starting down the road of going to the public court system to resolve your family law issues, speak with your lawyer about the advantages and disadvantages of using arbitration or a “private” court process.