Very few people know that in two states – Georgia and Texas – a divorcing couple can go before a full-blown jury. That’s right. In the Peach State and the Lone Star State, a divorcing couple can have their fate decided by 12 of their peers.
Even though these forums are seldom used, the provision remains on the books. For sure, jury trials are far more expensive and labor intensive than any other route.
The threat of a jury trial makes most divorcing spouses do their best to come to terms on the details of a divorce outside of the courtroom. In these states, the laws remain as the ultimate last resort in a series of escalating options that become less and less appealing.
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. Georgia divorce juries decide alimony, child support and distribution of assets and debt. The court, though, decides custody of the children. Texas reverses this, with juries deciding custody and visitation rights, and the judge determining the division of assets. Texas juries also hear cases where a parent wants to terminate the parental rights of another or if one spouse is trying to prove paternity.
A divorce by jury 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 fairness. Moreover, jury trials are open to the public and the details of a break-up become a permanent part of the court record.
Occasional attempts to repeal divorce-by-jury laws in Georgia and Texas have gone nowhere, so divorce-by-jury laws will probably remain on the books in both states for some time.