In the majority of states, divorce and other domestic relations matters, such as child support and child custody matters may only be determined by a judge. However, there are two states in which a jury may determine certain issues of divorce matters, Texas and Georgia. In Texas, juries may decide custody and visitation rights in domestic relations matters, but judges alone must determine the issue of property division. The reverse is true for Georgia. In Georgia, divorce issues concerning alimony and property division may be heard by a judge or a jury. Specifically, according to Georgia state law:
Unless an issuable defense is filed as provided by law and a jury trial is demanded in writing by either party on or before the call of the case for trial, in all petitions for divorce and permanent alimony the judge shall hear and determine all issues of law and of fact and any other issues raised in the pleadings.
O.C.G.A. § 19-5-1 (a). See also Franklin v. Franklin, 267 Ga. 82 (1996) and Ivey v. Ivey, 264 Ga. 435 (1994). Simply put, in Georgia, divorce matters of alimony, child support and property division may be heard by a jury if a jury trial is requested by either of the parties. Although the option of having a divorce matter heard by a jury is available under Georgia law, the divorce case will be heard by a judge alone unless one of the parties formally requests a jury trial. It is not necessary for both parties to agree to trial by jury. If either spouse requests a trial by jury, they are entitled to this right.
Practice Pointer - Juries Cannot Hear Child Custody Issues
Although juries may hear matters concerning the determination of equitable division, alimony and child support, Georgia law does not allow for juries to hear matters of child custody. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 9(a)(2). Thus, in divorce matters where issues of equitable division, alimony, child support, and child custody must be determined, the parties may opt to have the first three issues determined by a jury. But, the issue of child custody must be determined by the judge alone.
The decision regarding whether to seek a trial by jury or a final trial in front of a judge solely is one that should be made only after consultation with a Georgia divorce attorney as there are advantages and disadvantages that come along with either decision that must be seriously considered. Although there is not right or wrong answer to the question of whether to seek a trial by jury or trial by judge, often if a case involves complex issues of law, it is better to seek a trial by judge. On the other hand, if the matter concerns issues or circumstances that everyday individuals may empathize with, trial by jury may be the better alternative.