If you have a family law case that is going to be heard before a jury, it may be helpful to understand which issues will be decided by the judge, and which will be decided by the jury.
The Jury can determine:
- Fault in the breakup of the marriage- a finding of fault is taken into consideration when it is time for the split of the property.
- Characterization of property- whether certain property is marital (community) property or the separate property of one of the parties.
- Type of conservatorship of the children (Joint managing conservatorship or sole managing conservator/possessory conservator)
- Right to determine domicile of the children & other parental rights
- Issues about the validity or existence of a marriage, when these are in dispute (Does an informal marriage exist between these two people? Is this marriage void? Are the parties entitled to an annulment?)
The Judge can determine:
- A “just and right” division of the estate
- Amount of child support to be paid and by whom
- Terms & conditions of access & possession (visitation)
Here are some factors to be considering in deciding whether or not YOU want to ask for a jury, and how to handle the case once a jury is involved.
- History of the case: Sometimes depending on the history of the case and how the Judge has ruled for or against you, then choosing a Jury is wise; however if the Judge knows the history of your case because of length or circumstances leaving those choices to the Judge may be best.
- Time and money: Jury trials typically are longer as you have to go through extra steps, voir dire (picking a Jury) timed opening and closings and time for the attorneys to discuss issues with the Judge outside of a jury. A standard Divorce with Property and Children could be as short as 8 hours to as long as 3 days (sometimes more) where as a Jury trial typically is at least 3 days and up to 7 to 8 days; then after the Jury verdict, the Judge still has to rule on the non-jury issues, which again may take 1 to 2 more days. Taking that into consideration the litigant has to understand a Jury trial may be more costly in money, time and emotion.
The above list covers the most common issues that you may see in a family law case that goes to the jury. Many people mistakenly believe that the jury will decide everything, and that the judge is just there to put a stamp of approval on the jury’s decision. That is not the case.
A divorcing party has to take time to discuss all of these issues with their attorney.