You may need to decide whether or not a trial by judge or a jury trial would be in your best interests. Perhaps the court has just set your case for trial. By default, the type of trial you'll get is a bench trial (i.e., a trial where the judge makes all of the final decisions). Maybe instead of the court setting your case for trial, you or the other party has requested a trial date. Again, by default, the type of trial that you'll get is a bench trial.
If you want to have a jury trial, there are some specific steps that you must first take. Before you decide that a jury trial is better for you and your case, be sure that you are armed with the understanding of what a jury can determine and then assess the evidence you have against the other party’s evidence. The Texas Family Code identifies several elements and issues of a divorce and custody case that can be tried before a jury; the verdict won't be overturned by the court, either.
There are 5 Decisions that juries most commonly make in Texas. Texas is unique in that way. Here, we will discuss those five decisions, allowing you to make an informed decision of your own.
1. Are you Married?
Have a concern about an informal (commonly known as "common law") marriage? Texas acknowledges common law marriages, whether or not a person is actually married may not have a straight-forward answer. Juries can hear testimony regarding evidence concerning the existence or non-existence of a common law marriage. They can rule on whether one existed or not.
2. Who Gets Custody
If you are going through a divorce and have children or are involved in a child custody case, you know that this is perhaps the most crucial decision that the jury can make. Texas is the only state that allows juries to give verdicts that decide the custody of children. According to the Texas Family Code, a Texas jury can determine whether a party will be appointed sole managing conservator and which parent will have the right to establish the child’s primary residence (i.e., who has "custody" of the child.)
3. Where Will Your Children Live
After a family law case, it is quite common for there to be a geographic restriction on where the children can and cannot live. The jury can hear evidence from both parties and decide whether or not it is in the children's best interest to have a geographic restriction and, if so, to what area that restriction should apply.
4. Characterization of Marital Property
Have any separate property claims? You better be sure that your attorney is great at presenting expert evidence and testimony if necessary. A party must prove that property is their separate property with "clear and convincing evidence" or that property could be considered community property. Community property is divided between the spouses while separate property isn't. A jury can hear expert testimony and decide whether your property is deemed to be separate property or community property.
5. How Much Marital Property is Worth
Perhaps you and your spouse cannot agree on the value of your home. Let's imagine that the County's appraisal district has one value for your home, you have an even higher value based on work that you have put into the house, and your spouse has a much lower value that he/she got from a hired appraiser. A jury can review the evidence and then make a final determination as to the value of your assets and other personal items.
Other causes of action/claims
In a divorce, spouses can sue each other for "torts" committed during the marriage. This could be fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, assault, and a wide variety of other claims, including claims under the Family Code, such as reimbursement claims. A jury can decide if a spouse is liable to the other spouse or if a marital estate is liable to the other estate.
Juries Can't Make Decisions Regarding:
- Adoption of a child;
- Enforcement of a Prior Order;
- Child support; or
- Property division.
The judge will make these decisions.
To be prepared for a jury trial case, speak with an experienced family law trial attorney today.