This is the first blog in a two part series on “jury topics.” In this first part, we’ll look at what issues a jury can decide in divorce. In the second part, we’ll look at what issues a jury cannot decide.
In divorce, either party has the right to demand a jury trial. In a jury trial, the jury only decide questions of “fact,” generally meaning whether or not something happened, or what about a fact question is true or not true. The judge always decides questions of “law,” generally meaning what are the legal consequences that follow once a fact has been established. The questions of “fact” that a jury can decide follow:
- Grounds for divorce (e.g. (a) whether the marriage has become insupportable, meaning the legitimate aims of marriage have been destroyed such that no reasonable chance of reconciliation exists; (b) whether one spouse has been cruel to the other; or (c) whether one spouse has committed adultery, etc.);
- The character of property (i.e. whether property is one spouse’s separate property or both spouses’ community property);
- The value of property, whether separate or community (noting that the court can consider the size or dollar value of one spouse’s separate property estate when making a “fair” division of the community property estate);
- Whether the parents or another applicant, such as a grandparent, should be appointed as a joint managing conservator, sole managing conservator or possessory conservator of the children;
- Which conservator should have the right to designate the residence of the children (i.e. primary custody); and,
- Whether a geographic restriction should be imposed on the residence of the children.
Even though each party has the right to demand a jury trial in divorce, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. In general, a jury trial increases the length of the litigation by 4 to 6 months and doubles the cost (or more) since jury trials involve significant additional legal work for the attorneys. Speak with a qualified family law or divorce attorney to learn more .
Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm. The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.