Jury Trials In Georgia Divorces
Unlike all but one other state in the U.S., Georgia law permits that divorces be tried before a jury of 12 people. There are numerous positive and negative aspects to that process, but it has been in Georgia’s Civil Code since time immemorial, and is unlikely to be eliminated anytime soon. If you are interested in a Georgia divorce, it is a good idea to do some research on this unusual option beforehand to see if it is right for you.
The Positives: Impartiality
A Georgia divorce will only go before a jury if it is requested; if neither party requests a jury trial, the family court judge will make the decisions. Even if your divorce is heard by a jury, however, it is not permitted to rule on child custody – that decision is deemed too critical to be granted to 12 strangers. The jury may rule on asset division, on child support and alimony, but not on child custody itself. Judges are held to be the most able to accurately assess the relevant factors in life that will lead to the best placement for a child or children.
In terms of what it offers a couple, however, a jury trial is a bulwark against potential bias from the bench. A judge may form an opinion that is unfounded or erroneous, or they may hold some action of a party’s against them. If the judge is the sole fact-finder, that can be problematic; if 12 different people have sway, one or two adverse opinions will generally not swing a decision virulently against one party or the other.
The Negatives: Exposure & Expense
The less advantageous parts of a jury trial to settle one’s divorce tend to go hand in hand: having a jury means that some parts of the parties’ married life, even the less flattering aspects, have the chance to be paraded in front of 12 random people. For many, this can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if the divorce is not amicable. While jurors can be and are stricken from the panel if they have a personal relationship to either party, this does not mitigate the potential embarrassment for many, leading them to work harder to settle their differences.
The length and drawn-out process of having a jury trial also means considerable expense may be necessary; attorney fees can add up when one must choose a jury, empanel that jury, and then spend hours hearing testimony. In addition, more time must be spent because jurors are uneducated in legal concepts that a judge will almost certainly already understand. The costs can add up, and in a system where temporary alimony to cover fees cannot be unilaterally ordered from the bench, the amounts can build until it is no longer a good idea to continue in some cases.
Call Our Experienced Atlanta Attorneys
Regardless of whether a jury trial, alternative dispute resolution or a settlement is what you are aiming for, the Atlanta divorce attorneys at Buckhead Family Law are ready, willing and able to try and help you with your case. Call us today to schedule a consultation at 404-600-1403. We are happy to put our experience to work for you.