In some counties, there is a “one judge one child” rule which means that a single judge is assigned to handle each hearing in a divorce or custody case that involves one or more minor children. The purpose of that rule is to ensure that the judge who makes the final custody determination is as familiar with the case as possible, since that judge’s ruling will have a long-lasting effect upon the child’s life. The one judge one child rule has its pros, and its cons.
The one judge one child rule (which is sometimes called “one child one judge”), is employed by many courts. The theory behind that rule is that by having one judge handle every aspect of a case involving child custody, that judge will be in the best position possible to understand the case, separate truth from lies, and otherwise make the best rulings about matters concerning a child. Supporters of the one judge one child approach think that doing so leads to better outcomes and more consistency for the child.
Some courts do not follow the one judge one child approach, and instead believe that assigning a single judge to a case leads to scheduling difficulties and delays that are against the best interests of the children and parents in a custody case. Implicit in that belief is the idea that judges are interchangeable and that any judge can properly handle a case, whether they have seen previous proceedings in that case or not.
As an attorney who handles many custody cases in Rock Island County, IL (where there is a one judge one child rule) as well as custody cases in Scott County, IA (where there is not a one judge one child rule), I have the opportunity to see the pros and cons of each rule. Overall, I would say that the one child one judge rule is something that I see as a net positive thing in custody cases, as there is benefit to having a judge who is familiar with the case by virtue of having handles each hearing in the case. There is also a benefit to the attorneys and parties when they know which judge will handle the trial, as different judges are known to care more or less about certain issues in a case, and so the presentation of the case can be tailored to best match the judge who will preside at trial. I do not find the scheduling argument against the one judge one child rule to be very persuasive, as I see that custody and divorce cases take just about as long in the areas that use the one child one judge rule and those that do not.
The existence of rules such as one judge one child is useful to illustrate how our legal system can be complex and variable, even across small distances. Properly handing a case requires knowledge of the court system, its rules, its common practices, etc. For those reasons, a person facing a custody case is wise to seek an experienced attorney who is familiar with the law and the court system.