It is a common misconception all court cases go to trial. Today, in family law cases, jury trials are often discussed but rarely experienced. Annually, less than 1% of parent-child cases tried to a final judgment in Texas family courts involve a jury trial. While many cases are set for jury trial, very few are actually tried all the way to a jury verdict.
Requesting a jury trial can be advantageous strategically for you and your attorney. Oftentimes, settlement negotiations are at a standstill over small details or a party is being irrational. A jury trial request may be the splash of cold water they need to push them into settlement. If the judge has demonstrated bias against your client or for the other side, a jury may give you a fresh look at the facts and a more favorable outcome.
Money is almost always a consideration for all parties involved in a family law case. Jury trials are far more expensive and last longer than a trial before the court. If one side is more financially sound than the other, requesting a jury trial can move the opposing side towards settlement. A request for a jury trial may persuade an irrational party to settle so that their dirty laundry it not publicly aired in front of a jury.
Jury trials are only available in limited circumstances in family law. Jury findings regarding property characterization as community or separate, as well as the value of certain assets are binding on the court. However, the jury cannot decide how the assets and debts of the parties will be divided. That is left for the judge.
A party is entitled to a jury verdict on the issues of who should be appointed a managing conservator or a possessory conservator. The jury can also decide if there will be a geographical restriction of the primary residence. However, a jury cannot decide what periods of possession a party will have with the children or what rights and duties that conservator will have to make child-rearing decisions.
Be aware of the court’s docket. Each court maintains a unique docket, meaning that each judge may reserve only one week a month or two weeks a month for jury trials. Requesting a jury trial may allow you more time to prepare for a trial, depending on that court’s docket, but you will also have far more moving parts and increased costs trying a jury trial as compared to a trial before the court.
Every case is unique and has a multitude of scenarios and resolutions. There may be any number of reasons a jury trial may not be right for you. The significant cost of a jury trial, including expert fees, attorney fees, and general costs may be overwhelming and outside of your financial resources. A jury trial usually takes longer to prepare so the divorce can end up dragging on even longer than if you just presented your case to the trial court for determination.
Additionally, on extremely complex property issues or child custody matters, it can be advantageous to have the case tried to a judge who deals with these scenarios on a daily basis and has a clear understanding of the issues. Frequently, a temporary order hearing has already been held in front of the judge, therefore the judge is familiar with your case and some of the facts involved, so the “education” process is less. Most often it is economically more feasible to have a judge listen to your case and make the decisions that need to be made. Judges hear family law cases on a regular basis and are quite familiar with the Texas Family Code and statutes surrounding divorce and child custody rights.
No matter what your family law case requires, your first and last line of defense is the legal representation you choose for you and your family. Having an experienced attorney who has been tried and tested in family law can be your greatest advantage in court. Mark L. Scroggins of Scroggins Law Group is a family law specialist, board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Scroggins has over 25 years of legal expertise and can aggressively yet compassionately navigate you through the complicated issues involved in divorce. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation by phone 214-469-3100, or find us online at www.scrogginslawgroup.com.
*Mark L. Scroggins is *board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Unless otherwise noted, other attorneys are not *board-certified.
**Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service, awarded to Mark Scroggins 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
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