In most states, the right to a jury trial in a divorce proceeding does not exist. In California, no such right exists. Rather, all divorces in California will be heard solely by the Judge, not a jury. However, in a limited number of states, including Texas and Georgia, whether you are the spouse who filed for divorce or the spouse who received a divorce petition, you have the option to request a jury trial during your divorce proceeding. Most of these states limit the right for a jury to only decide certain issues. In New York, for example, the circumstances are very narrow; a jury is only allowed to decide whether the parties meet the state criteria for divorce.
Texas offers the jury trial rights most broadly. In Texas, the jury consists of 12 jurors who may decide a number of issues. However, certain issues are still reserved for the Judge to decide. For example, the jurors in Texas can decide the issue of child custody, but the Judge will be the one to decide visitation and child support. Jurors in Texas can also determine the value of the assets, and determine which assets are considered separate property versus community property. However, the Judge will be the one to actually determine the division of such assets.
Offering the option of a jury trial in divorce proceedings is a hot topic of dispute. Supporters of offering a jury trial argue that it helps to ensure fairness by thwarting the Judge’s potential bias. Many also support jury trials because they believe that it gives litigants more of an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Another benefit of offering the option of a jury trial in a divorce proceeding is that it encourages parties to try and settle outside of court, since a jury trial is a risk for both sides no matter what the facts of the case are.
However, many oppose the idea of a jury trial in a divorce because they aren’t keen on the idea of having the details of their private lives displayed before a dozen strangers. Additionally, divorce proceedings are expensive enough. Adding the option for a jury trial is likely to cause the divorce proceeding to be even more time consuming and expensive
As mentioned above, a jury trial is not an option here in California and therefore we don’t have to worry about the potential negative aspects of such a situation. However, even without a jury trial, it is still important to have an experienced attorney litigate on your behalf whether it be in front of the Judge or outside of court. Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.