You would like to think that the judge assigned to your divorce in NJ Family Part Court is an expert in divorce and family law. That is not always assured.
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recently charged a judge temporarily assigned to the family part with violating court rules and bearing on the judiciary’s integrity by admitting to litigants he did not know family law and complaining about his assignment to the family part. I am not here to pick on this judge, though he certainly could have handled his assignment better. Most judges are competent, but may not be expert in their practice area.
This episode points out a flaw in our judicial system. In New Jersey, judges are (politically connected) lawyers who are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Once they are on the bench, they are assigned by another judge in the court system to a judgeship in a county and part of the court. Before each lawyer is granted a judgeship, they may have practiced family law, or criminal or civil or tax or government or land use or whatever. There is no guarantee that judges are matched to their pre-appointment expertise. The needs of the court can wildly vary over time and thus you have situations where a judge is assigned to a non-familiar area. Further, new judges are often placed in the family part since the consequences of a bad decision are not as problematic as, say, the criminal part. Family cases can move more slowly than criminal cases, which have constitutional mandates for speedy trials.
If you are divorcing or have other family matters, how do you avoid a judge who is not an expert in family law? Take the judge out of the equation. Settle the matter on your own and avoid the risk of an adverse decision due to lack of expertise. Appeals are very expensive.
Mediation can be very helpful in settling these kinds of matters. Contact me for more information about mediating your divorce or family matter.
Update: The judge in this matter was publicly reprimanded by the NJ Supreme Court on June 1, 2023.