Georgia and Texas are the only two states that allow jury trials for divorcing
spouses. All of the other 48 states conduct family law procedures in separate
California is a no-fault divorce jurisdiction. There are no “good”
spouses to be rewarded for their marital behavior, nor “bad”
spouses to be punished for their marital behavior. A divorce will be granted
if the parties have an irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. (However,
a judge will penalize a party for illegal or bad behavior as a matter
of law, such as domestic violence, hiding assets, etc.)
Juries are needed to determine the ultimate fact: whether someone has committed
a crime, and is therefore guilty; or has caused harm to another, and therefore
liable in civil court.
In divorces, the ultimate fact is already determined: the breakup of the
marriage, and that fact was determined by the spouses themselves. Now,
it’s just a question of how to determine spousal and/or child support,
child visitation and distribution of debts and assets. Having a jury decide
these issues would create nothing but chaos. These members of society
are lay people. They are not experts in marital issues. How can they realistically
and fairly determine the future lives of divorcing parties and their children?
But, can’t we just add some experts as witnesses to help juries determine
outcomes as we do in criminal and civil cases? Again, asking juries to
understand the nuances of family law, and making life-time decisions would
not be fair to the parties or their children. Further, how would changes
be made as the lives of the parties and their children change? How would
custody be changed or support – by another jury or a judge? Or would
the jury’s decision be permanent? If permanent, that would be a
complete miscarriage of justice for the parties and their children.
Keep in mind, that over many, many years of family law, especially in California,
have evolved to cover most aspects of families’ lives. Family law
in California is an entire code book! There are codes determining child
custody and visitation. There are codes to determine whether spousal and/or
child support should be awarded and how much. (In fact, there is a computer
program used to determine amounts based on those codes. It’s called a “dissomaster.”)
Lastly, think about trying to assemble juries for family court. It’s
difficult enough for courts to impanel juries for criminal and civil trials.
Adding family law juries would be unmanageable for courts to assemble.
Think of the additional legal costs to the parties as well in trying to
impanel a jury. Each side would try to get jurors partial to their side
and against the other party. Jurors would be chosen based on grudges:
how much support does the juror pay, or does another juror receive; how
much time does a juror get with his/her children, etc. Lawyers get paid
by the hour, and many days could be spent in impaneling juries!
No, let Georgia and Texas determine and solve martial problems by juries.
The system in California is fair to all parties in very sad situations.