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Family Law Juries: When and Why

Family, Divorce & Children

In a contested family law case, you may want to ask the court for a jury trial at your final hearing.

In a contested family law case, you may want to have a jury decide custody issues or the character of your property in a divorce instead of a judge in your final hearing. In this article, learn about requesting jury trials in a family law case, the role of a jury in a family law case, and what the jury is and is not allowed to hear in a final trial.

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What is a jury trial?

A jury trial in a family law case happens when one party requests a particular issue be heard in front of a jury instead of a judge (bench trial). There are only a few specific issues a jury is allowed to hear concerning family law issues. 

Can I request a jury trial in my family law case?

If your case is contested and going to final trial, yes, you can request a jury trial in your case. If you are not sure if your case is contested read Uncontested and Contested Cases: The Difference.  

Before requesting a jury trial in your case, you should hire a family law lawyer. Conducting a jury trial is complicated and it is a good idea to have someone who knows the law and how to do a jury trial representing you and your interests. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can: 

When can I request a jury trial?

You can request a jury trial at any time in your case, but no later than 30 days before the date your case is set for the final trial.

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 216(a).

How do I request a jury trial?

To request a jury trial, you must file a written demand for a jury trial in your case and pay the jury fee of $10 in the district court or $5 in the county court. If you cannot afford the filing fee, file a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if you have not already. 

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rules 216(b) and 217.

What can a jury decide in a divorce?

Juries are allowed to make decisions about property division and certain parenting issues in a divorce. In a jury trial about property division, juries can make decisions answering questions about: 

  • If the property at issue is community property or separate property; 

  • If the property is community property, what is the value of that property; and 

  • If the property division is considered just and right under the law. 

Juries in divorce cases can also make decisions about spousal maintenance, if the couple is considered common law married, fault of the divorce, issues of annulment, and attorney’s fees.  

Unlike in criminal cases, juries do not need to make a unanimous decision–only 10 out of 12 jurors or five out of a six-panel jury need to agree for a verdict to be valid. However, jury verdicts must be unanimous if there are exemplary damages 

Texas Family Code 6.703, 9.005

What can’t a jury decide in a divorce?

In divorce jury trials, jurors cannot make decisions about the division of community property, enforcing the terms of a prior order, and all the issues listed below for parenting issues if children are involved.

What can a jury decide about parenting issues?

The jury in a case involving parenting issues can issue a verdict about: 

  1. Conservatorship. Juries can decide if the parties are going to be made joint managing conservators, one parent as the sole managing conservator, or the appointment of a possessory conservator. 

  1. Primary Residence. If they make the parties joint managing conservators, which parent has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child. 

  1. Geographic Restrictions. Juries can decide if there should be a geographic restriction and, if so, which joint managing conservator should be used as the designation. 

Texas Family Code 105.002(c)(1)

Read Child Custody & Conservatorship to learn more about what each of the designations mean. 

What can’t the jury decide about parenting issues?

The law does not allow juries to make decisions on: 

  1. Any specific terms or conditions of possession of or access to the child; 

  1. Any child support issues; 

  1. Any right or duty of a conservator, other than determining which JMC has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child; 

  1. Enforcement issues unless contempt of court with more than six consecutive months of jail time; 

  1. Any adoption cases; and 

  1. Any cases concerning parentage. 

Texas Family Code 105.002(c), 9.005

What If I decide I don’t want a jury trial after requesting one?

If you file your demand and pay the fee, you can withdraw your demand. However, your case will stay on the jury docket unless the other parties agree to have the trial without a jury. 

If you are allowed to withdraw the case from the jury docket, it will be up to the court if your jury fee deposit is returned.

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 220.

Do I need to have a lawyer to have a jury trial?

You do not have to have a lawyer to represent you in a jury trial. However, jury trials are complicated and your rights as a parent, your property, and your money may be at risk. 

It is a good idea to talk with and hire a family law lawyer about your particular situation before filing a jury demand. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving family law. A family law lawyer can explain your rights and your chances of winning in front of a jury. This is especially important if the other party has a lawyer. 

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