By: Leslie Barrows
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Jury trials in Texas divorce and family law
The Texas Family Code identifies several elements of a divorce and family law case that can be tried before a jury, seeking a verdict that the court will not overturn, involving a variety of issues. Family law attorneys addressing a jury panel have the opportunity to artfully tell their client’s story and explain how and why the jurors should return a verdict in their client’s favor. Some people prefer a jury to a judge if they are concerned the judge will not have a good impression of them. While there are several issues that can be litigated with a jury, the judge is the only one who can rule on other issues, as determined by the Texas Family Code and laws.
The status of a marriage is an issue in divorce cases that can be decided by a jury.
A Texas jury may decide the grounds for divorce, whether a marriage is void, and certain grounds for annulments of marriages.[i] While many people petition for divorce based on the no-fault grounds, proof of fault-based divorces may be a good match for an impartial jury. A jury can also hear a trial on the issues involved with common law marriages in Texas[ii]. Whether a couple effectively represent themselves as married can be a surprising disagreement between the parties when one wants a divorce from the other who says they were never married in the first place. On the other side of the coin, some people get married with a prenuptial agreement, something that also may go to a Texas jury to determine whether the agreement is valid and enforceable.
Juries can render verdicts on child custody and residential matters.
Texas is unique, in being the only state where juries can render verdicts controlling the custody of children and their primary residence. Specifically, the family code specifies that a Texas jury can determine the appointment of a managing conservator (custodial parent), joint managing conservators and possessory conservators.[iii] The role of the conservator is to make decisions for the child and manage their care and daily life. Another right the conservator may have, which can be determined by the jury, is whether there will be any geographic restrictions on where the child may live, for example, limited to a certain county or defined area.[iv] The Texas jury can decide which parent may determine where a child will live.[v] These are a few of the common decisions that can be made by a judge or a jury, if one of the parties makes a jury demand.
A trial by jury may be used to determine the status of property, values and distribution.
Issues involving property can be very complex. While Texas is a community property state and marital assets are generally divided equally, there can be issues involving inherited property, business interests, and that which is otherwise argued as separate property not to be included in the marital estate. These are all issues that juries may determine.[vi] Additionally, the jury can hear the testimony of experts, review evidence, and make determinations of the dollar value of property in the marital estate.[vii] Issues of ownership and agreements concerning who gets what are generally fitting for a Texas jury.
The judge can determine anything a jury can, but the judge has exclusive authority over certain matters in which the jury may not render a verdict. For example, the enforcement of court orders, adoption, paternity, visitation and child support are not matters where Texas law allows the option of a jury trial.
The Barrows Firm attorneys frequently answer questions about the process involved in divorce and family law cases. For more information about the options for a trial by judge or jury, contact The Barrows Firm using the links below, or by phone at (817) 481-1583.
The Barrows Firm in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, represents families with legal issues in the area of divorce and family law, as well as juvenile, criminal, probate law and estate planning. You may make an appointment to meet with an attorney in the Fort Worth or Trophy Club office by contacting The Barrows Firm through the website. The Barrows Firm is also active on social media, on Twitter and Facebook.
[i] TEX. FAM. CODE §§ 6.001-6.007; TEX. FAM. CODE §§ 6.105-6.110
[ii] TEX. FAM. CODE § 2.401
[iii] TEX. FAM. CODE § 105.002 (c)(1)(A)-(C)
[iv] TEX. FAM. CODE §§ 105.002 (c)(1)(E)-(F)
[v] TEX. FAM. CODE § 105.002 (c)(1)(D)
[vi] Cockerham v. Cockerham, 527 S.W.2d 162, 173 (Tex. 1975)
[vii] Archumbault v. Archambault, 763 S.W.2d 50, 51 (Tex.App.—Beaumont 1988)