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Jury Trials

In Texas, a trial in a divorce or child custody case will usually occur in what is called a bench trial.  In bench trials, the Judge hearing the case will decide all the issues before him/her.  The Judge listens to testimony from witnesses, reviews evidence presented in the case, applies the laws relevant to the case, and makes a final ruling. The Court’s ruling will then become a final order.

In Texas, a party can demand a JURY trial in which a JURY, in addition to the Judge, hear the case.  The JURY also listens and reviews the evidence and then renders a verdict. It is important to note that a JURY can only render a verdict on some issues in a family law case while all other issues must still be decided by the judge.

What family law issues can a JURY decide in Texas?

After hearing all the evidence, a JURY can give a binding verdict on the following issues in a family law case:

  • the appointment of a sole managing conservator and a possessory conservator.
  • the appointment of joint managing conservators.
  • the determination of which joint managing conservator has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence. [*It is important to note that the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence does not necessarily determine the conservator who will have other exclusive parental rights or more possession time.]
  • the determination of whether to impose a restriction on the geographic area in which a joint managing conservator may designate the child’s primary residence and if so, where that geographic restriction will be.
  • the determination of grounds for divorce (whether one spouse is at fault in a divorce).
  • the determination of whether a couple is common law married.
  • the determination of character of property (i.e., separate, community, mixed, reimbursement claim owed to one estate).
  • the determination of value of property.

A JURY can give an advisory opinion on the following issues:

  • division of property (in a divorce case).
  • the unconscionability of premarital agreements.
  • attorney’s fees and costs of court.

Which family law issues can NOT be decided by a JURY?  

  • the determination of any parental rights or duties of a conservator (except that a JURY can determine which joint managing conservator has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence and whether to impose a geographic restriction).
  • a specific term or condition of possession of or access to a child (i.e., the visitation schedule).
  • child support.
  • division of community property.
  • spousal maintenance.
  • enforcing the provisions of a prior order.

Bench Trial v. JURY Trial?

The process of preparing for a JURY trial in a family law case is considerably different compared to litigating issues at a bench trial.  You should consult an experienced family law attorney to help you determine if the issues in your case can be decided by a JURY and whether a JURY trial is your best chance for reaching the outcome you desire.