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I Filed for Divorce - Should I Demand a Jury?

I Filed for Divorce - Should I Demand a Jury?

Georgia is one of only two states, including Texas, that still permits jury trials in divorce cases. Going to trial is risky in and of itself, but empaneling a jury to decide a divorce could unleash a veritable Pandora’s box. On the other hand, there may be good reasons for demanding a jury trial, including the fact that having twelve of your peers decided the case, instead of just one overworked judge, may produce a fairer result. Here’s what you should know before you demand a jury:

  • Time – Trial by jury generally takes at least twice as much time as a bench trial because jury selection is time-consuming. With a jury, you also have to handle matters outside the jury’s presence, which adds time to the entire process. Preparing for the trial also takes more time because you have to prepare jury charges, verdict forms, and often additional motions or pleadings, which you would not need for a bench trial. If you are in a rush to get divorced, think twice before demanding a jury.
  • Money – Time is money. The more time an attorney has to spend preparing for and conducting a trial, the more money you will have to pay your attorney. If you have limited means or are most interested in conserving assets, think twice before demanding a jury.
  • Risk Tolerance – Juries are unpredictable. They are comprised of individuals who do not necessarily have any particular expertise in the law generally, and likely not in family law specifically. They have not witnessed hundreds of divorce trials and may be more easily swayed by certain evidence that should carry little weight in a divorce. You could receive an abnormally good or bad result from a jury. If you are risk averse, think twice before demanding a jury.
  • Complexity – Juries are not typically comprised of experts in family law or the issues that commonly arise in family law cases, like tax, finance, and child welfare. If your case involves complex issues not easily understood by laypersons, think twice before demanding a jury.
  • Custody – Juries are not allowed to decide custody in Georgia. In a divorce that involves minor children, therefore, juries can decide the divorce, equitably distribute the marital estate, assign the parties’ separate property, and determine child support. The judge alone, however, decides custody. This decision must occur in the middle of the case, after the divorce has been granted, but before child support has been determined. In other words, the trial must be bifurcated, which adds time and frustration to the entire process. If minor children are involved, think twice before demanding a jury. Also, if the only reason you wanted the jury was to win a custody battle, definitely do not demand a jury because the jury cannot decide that issue.

By now, you may be thinking – is there ever a good time to demand a jury? Yes, there are times when empaneling a jury may be in your best interest. You should talk to your lawyer about demanding a jury when:

  • You got a bad result at the temporary hearing
  • The judge seems unsympathetic to your position
  • The judge does not seem to like your attorney
  • The judge has made comments at the temporary or at other hearings that may imply an unfavorable result
  • Your attorney is familiar with the judge’s proclivities and has advised you that an issue in your case will likely trigger a negative outcome

When it comes to jury trials, unless you have the sort of disposition that relishes being the main character of a salacious story, the best advice is to proceed with extreme caution. For more detailed information, check out Divorce Jury Trial Basics written by Johnson Kraeuter’s very own K. Paul Johnson and published at page 254 in the 2019 Nuts and Bolts of Family Law materials.