When you are watching a movie or television show that involves a courtroom scene, such as a trial, almost always is the case that the scene is filmed with a jury looking on with varying levels of interest in the proceedings. For this reason, most people imagine that when their family law case goes to court for a trial, it will be a jury trial that will decide their fate. The reality of the situation from the perspective of a family law attorney is that not only are you unlikely to go before a judge or jury at all, but you are much more likely to have your case heard by a judge rather than a jury.
First, the vast majority of child custody and divorce cases settle in Texas without going to a trial. Well, this may be news to you; it should not be bad news. You don't want to have to go before a judge or jury necessarily to complete your family law case. Remember that you are attempting to decide issues that impact your family and your long-term well-being. Nobody knows what's better for your family than you and your opposing party. You may not agree on every subject, but you are certainly capable of putting aside your differences as much as possible and settling on terms that could civilly and your dispute in a divorce or child custody case.
On top of the unlikelihood that your case will ever reach a trial, we also have to contend with the reality that even if your case does make it to a trial, you are much more likely to have your case heard by a judge than by a jury. It is sporadic for a jury trial to be requested in a divorce, mostly because people would prefer to have issues heard by someone who is experienced in the world of family law than by strangers who may have no experience in dealing with the statutes, precedents, and technicalities that family loves presents. Family court judges are tasked with making decisions based on their own experience in large part. Most people in your position do not want their peers who may have no experience in family law making these types of decisions for them.
This is why not only are you unlikely to ever go to a trial in your family law case, but you are unlikely to need to request a jury. However, you may be involved in circumstances where you and your attorney believe that a jury trial would be preferable to a trial in front of a judge. Although a judge would still be part of the trial to rule on the admissibility of evidence and objections made during the trial, you would be presenting issues to a jury to decide. This is what I would like to discuss in today's blog post. What are some of the necessary aspects of jury trial consideration for you to make as you approach the beginning of your family law case?
Information about jury trials in Texas family law cases
As we have already discussed, Texas does allow law cases such as child custody and divorce to be set for jury trials. It is almost a given that your case will be heard in front of a judge, however, simply because jury trials are not that common. One of the major reasons for this is that judges can decide every issue in a divorce or child custody case, while juries can only answer a few. This may impact your willingness to consider a jury trial given the circumstances of your case.
Here are some of the issues that a jury can decide in a Texas family law case
a major issue that impacts a growing number of Texans in this day and age is whether or not yours is a more common dating relationship or is a common-law marriage. One of the issues that a jury can determine is whether or not you are involved in a marriage or a dating relationship. The hallmarks of a common-law marriage are: living together under one roof in a shared residence, participating in activities that married couples do, and holding yourselves out to the community as being married. If you have all three of these factors in play simultaneously and you are common law married.
A second issue that a jury can determine as part of your divorce trial would be the value of certain pieces of property. As a family law attorney, this makes me a little nervous because you were asking everyday people like ourselves to make decisions about some of your most valuable assets. Divorce attorneys will present expert witnesses in trials, and the jury will largely base their estimate on the expert witness's value in their testimony.
However, this gets back to the point I made at the beginning of today's blog post. While jury trials are far widely utilized in the United States, there are some instances where the judge's experience may be preferable to utilize in an experienced jury reliant upon expert witness testimony. This would seem to be one of those areas. I think judges are less prone to be swayed by promotion and are more likely to issue rulings based purely on the facts. This is exactly what you want to determine the value of the property.
Third, juries can determine whether or not you might be owed money in the form of reimbursement by the spouse's conclusion of your marriage. A common issue that couples run into at the time of their divorce could be when your spouse owns a separate property home, and community resources were utilized to make improvements or pay the mortgage on that home. The community is state may be entitled to be reimbursed by your spouse's separate estate, and a jury can determine the extent to which reimbursement is necessary.
Beyond this issue, juries can also determine whether or not but a piece of property is part of your community estate or belongs in one of the separatist states of you and your spouse. Texas is a Community property state where all property is assumed to be divisible in the divorce absent contrary evidence. With that said, if you and your spouse cannot agree on which state a piece of property belongs to, then you all may be able to have a jury decide this issue; that is your choice.
Next, if you believe that adultery was the basis for your getting a divorce, then you can submit this question to a jury to determine whether or not there is a basis for citing this as a ground for your divorce. If a jury does believe that adultery played a role in your divorce, then it is possible that a disproportionate share of your community estate could be awarded to you since you are the innocent spouse. Both sides would be able to submit evidence to show whether or not adultery did occur and what impact it had on your marriage, if any.
Children's issues about jury trials in Texas
in addition to the issues already presented in today's blog post, juries in a family law case can also determine if she's related to your children in their relationship with you. One of the most highly contested conservatorships issues in Texas family law cases would be which parent can be named the primary conservator of your children. The primary conservator can determine the primary residence of the kids and also received child support. As a result, this is an issue that is oftentimes decided in a trial if a settlement cannot be reached before going to a courthouse.
If you choose to have a jury trial after your family law case, then this is an issue that can be submitted to the jury for their consideration. Like with any other issue that will be brought before the family court, you and your Co-parent will both be able to present evidence to the jury as to why either one of you should be named as the primary conservator of your children. Once all the evidence has been submitted, the jury will then make a decision based on your children's best interest. This is the same legal standard that a judge would need to make the decision based on, but the jury will also be able to do so.
Other issues regarding conservatorships can also be presented to a jury. The essential question regarding conservatorships in Texas family law cases is whether or not you all will be named as joint managing conservators. The vast majority of parents who live in separate households that have gone through family law cases are named joint managing conservators. This means that you all will be able to share a responsibility holding regarding your children in the decision-making.
Additionally, this also means that you all will share something that amounts to a standard possession order to spend time with your children. The state of Texas encourages families to share time and responsibilities with children. However, it may be determined by a jury that naming either you or your Co-parent as a joint managing conservator is not in the best interest of the children. In that case, the other parent would likely be named as the sole managing conservator and be able to make most of the decisions for the children and spend most of the children's time with that parent.
This is a major issue to be determined in a family log case. Even though the naming of a sole managing conservator is not relevant to every single family law case in Texas, it is relevant in enough of the cases where you should consider with your attorney whether or not it will be wise to allow this issue to be presented to a jury rather than a judge. In your case, there may be specific factors that lead your attorney to believe that presenting these issues to a jury would be wiser than doing so to a judge. It would help if you considered the advice of your attorney and then make a decision that you think is in your best interest and that of your children.
As it sometimes happens, you may wish for a geographic restriction put in place about where your children can live after the family law case is over. The geographic restriction is intended to make sure that children can spend time with both of their parents after a family law case is over with and to help the parent who is not the primary Conservatory be able to live close enough to their children to help facilitate Visitation and possession schedules that were decided upon.
Imagine that you are named the possessory conservator the parent with hearing the children do not reside with primarily. Now imagine that you are in a scenario where your Co-parent can pick up and move with the children anywhere they want without regard to where you are or your employment. This puts you in a precarious position where you may need to up and leave quite frequently due to your children being on the move. Not only is this not ideal for you, but it likely is less than ideal for your children, as well.
Therefore, the geographic restriction is oftentimes utilized to limit the ability of the primary Conservator to move with the children beyond a certain geographic area. For example, if you reside in Harris County as the primary conservator of your children, then you may be unable to move beyond Harris or one of the counties that border Harris. I have seen geographic restrictions limited to only Harris County or Harris and another County. I can even recall one case in the past where both parents were so in love with a certain school district that the geographic restriction was limited to the bounds of that specific school district.
If there is disagreement on this issue, it can be presented to a jury in your family law case. If you oppose a geographic restriction in your case, you should be prepared to present evidence to a jury as to why no geographic restriction should be implemented. Keep in mind that arguments should be couched in terms of how it is not in the best interests of your children for there to be a geographic restriction rather than how having the restriction could inconvenience you in some way.
Child Protective Services cases and jury trials
The most consequential issue that can be determined in a family law case is whether or not your parental rights can be terminated. You don't see this issue brought up in most divorce or child custody cases, but you see it as a part of Child Protective Services cases with some regularity. It is more common for a CPS case to be involved with this subject because there are already issues of child abuse and neglect central to the case. The leap from abuse and neglect issues to termination of parental rights is a shorter one than you see involved in your typical child custody or divorce case.
If you choose not to participate in efforts to reunify you with your child during a CPS case, then the state of Texas can ask a court to have your parental rights terminated. If your child's safety and well-being are believed to be at a continued risk with your involvement in their life, then this may become an issue in your CPS case. A jury in Texas can consider this issue and whether it is in your children's best interest for you to no longer have a role in their life.
As you can see, the number of issues that a jury can consider in a family law case is pretty diverse. With all the issues consequential to your life and that of your children, you should speak to your attorney and have detailed discussions before requesting a jury trial in your family law case. There are advantages and disadvantages to making this sort of selection, and you should not do so without first thinking through the issues thoroughly.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post; please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family circumstances relate to the law in our state.