Divorce by Jury
Georgia and Texas are the only states where a couple can get divorced in a full-blown jury trial proceeding, including a verdict handed down by 12 of their peers. Although everyone knows jury trials are far more expensive and labor intensive than other forms of divorce, the laws remain on the books in Georgia and Texas even though they are rarely utilized. It appears that the threat of a jury trial alone is enough to make most parties in a divorce do their best to try and work out the details of a divorce outside of the courtroom. The laws remain in place to serve their purpose as the ultimate last resort in a series of options that get less appealing as people move through the divorce process.
Divorce attorneys in Georgia and Texas rarely advise their clients to take the jury trial option as a first choice these days, but they do sometimes use the threat of the jury as a deterrent and strategic tool in negotiations. In Texas, a jury does not make decisions on property division in a divorce. Texas juries do decide child custody, visitation, parent’s rights and paternity issues. In Georgia, juries decide on the division of property as well as child support and alimony awards. Georgia juries do not decide child custody matters though, that decision is always made by the presiding judge in the case.
The right to a divorce by jury trial can help prevent bias on the part of a single judge from influencing a case, and instead of one person deciding what is best for a couple or family, a panel of 12 jurors can ensure more fairness overall. In cases where agreements between spouses cannot be reached, a jury trial can offer a solution even though it is usually a more costly and time-consuming solution. It is also a less private solution, as jury trials are subject to public scrutiny and the details of a break-up become a permanent part of the court record.
Divorce-by-jury laws will probably remain on the books in both Georgia and Texas for some time to come despite occasional attempts to repeal them. As long as divorce attorneys find them to be useful litigation leverage tools, and those seeking the more costly, less private option are willing to pay the price of admission, the laws probably won’t go away until the clients do.