When are you entitled to a jury trial in family law cases?

Only 11 states allow jury trials for divorces. Texas is the only state that allows a jury trial for custody matters. The Texas Constitution guarantees your right to jury trial in civil cases.

The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate. The Legislature shall pass such laws as may be needed to regulate the same, and to maintain its purity and efficiency.”

TEX. CONST. ART 1, § 15.

The Texas Constitution further states:

In the trial of all causes in the District Courts, the plaintiff or defendant shall, upon application made in open court, have the right of trial by jury; but no jury shall be empaneled in any civil case unless demanded by a party to the case, and a jury fee be paid by the party demanding a jury, for such sum, and with such exceptions as may be prescribed by the Legislature.”

TEX. CONST. ART 5, § 10.

What can a jury decide in a divorce?

A jury can give binding verdicts on limited issues a divorce. A jury can determine the grounds for divorce. Texas has seven grounds for divorce which are found in chapter 6 of the Texas Family Code. The grounds are divided between no-fault grounds and fault grounds. The three no-fault grounds are: 1) Insupportability; 2) Living apart for three years or longer; and 3) Confinement to a mental hospital where one spouse has been confined for at least three years and it is unlikely that, if adjustment occurs, a relapse is probable. The four fault grounds are: 1) Cruelty; 2) Adultery; 3) Abandonment; and 4) Conviction of a felony.

A jury can also determine the character of property. Is the property separate property? Is the property community property? Is the property mixed character such that it is part separate property and part community property? The jury can determine the value of the property with the jury question being similar to: “State in dollars the value of Property X.” A reimbursement claim by one marital estate to another marital estate, as well as whether an offset against such reimbursement claim exists are also a jury questions.

A jury is prohibited from giving a binding verdict on the following matters: how the property will be divided between the parties; whether a premarital agreement is unconscionable; attorney’s fees to be awarded; and costs of court to be awarded.

What can a jury decide in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship?

Child issues come before the court when married parents get divorced and the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) is combined with the divorce. Child issues also come before the court when unmarried parents file an original SAPCR or when unmarried or formerly married parents file a petition to modify the parent-child relationship.

A jury can decide the following child related issues:

  1. Whether a party will be appointed a sole managing conservator and the identification of which parent will be appointed the sole managing conservator;
  2. Whether the parties will be appointed joint managing conservators;
  3. Whether a possessory conservator will be appointed and the identification of that possessory conservator;
  4. Which joint managing conservator will have the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child;
  5. Whether there will be a geographic restriction on the primary residence of the child; and
  6. If there is a geographic restriction, determination of what that geographic restriction will be (i.e., State of Texas; Dallas County; Collin County and counties contiguous to Collin County).

A jury cannot give any opinion on issues regarding parentage, child support, the terms or conditions of possession or access, or what rights and duties the conservators will have (not including who has the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence).

Many factors go into deciding whether to ask for a jury trial. While Texas gives litigants the opportunity to have the case decided by a jury, knowing what a jury can actually decide is a helpful starting point when analyzing your case strategy.