I heard the other day in Court a discussion of jury trials in divorce cases and that one had not been conducted in Shelby County for 20 years. Also, that a Jury Trial could only address grounds for divorce. I had read some cases referring to jury trials and custody issues, so I decided to investigate further. A jury trial may be had on factual “issues” per the applicable; this would naturally include grounds, but could also include who provided primary care and lots of other issues that would effectively craft the ruling as to the equitable relief granted by a court. The appellate cases referring to such would indicate my interpretation is correct and that the grounds only exclusion is the legal equivalent of an urban myth.
So when should a jury trial be used if that is the case? I think for child custody issues where there are disputes such as drug use, abuse, and who provides the primary care it would be very useful. Judges can fall prey to what I term “Judge Think” and give routine evidence in child custody cases far too much weight and not realize it was created for their benefit. A jury will be much more skeptical being for example familiar with the well known routine of child custody cases of accusations of abandonment, drug use, and abuse in that order. In addition, it would make later changes in custody much more difficult as a Jury Trial would be needed.
Also, in cases where there is extreme failure to contribute by one of the parties a jury verdict as to that could make it more likely a Judge would ignore the tendency to “split the baby” in terms of dividing assets.
The downside would be the cost in the amount of time required additionally, and that it might irritate the Judges who are fighting with dockets crowded with child support and alimony contempt hearings.
In any case, ask a lawyer about a jury trial in your divorce just to ensure a potentially useful option is not ignored.