Recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed a Gwinnett Superior Court’s granting of a wife’s motion to strike the husband’s demand for a jury trial in the parties’ divorce action. In a divorce case, either party can demand a jury trial. Generally, “when a party makes a timely demand for a jury trial, the trial court cannot proceed without a jury unless the parties consent to a bench trial by a written stipulation filed with the court or an oral stipulation made in open court and entered in the record.” OCGA § 9-11-39 (a). One exception to this general rule is that “a party in a divorce case can, by [his] voluntary actions, impliedly waive a demand for a jury trial.” Matthews v. Matthews, 268 Ga. 863, 864 (2) (494 SE2d 325) (1998).
In Kauttner v. Kauttner, the wife filed for divorce and the husband requested a jury trial. Kautter v. Kautter, 286 Ga. 16 (2009). When the case was called for trial, the husband deliberately chose not to attend and instructed his attorney not to participate in the proceedings. As a result, the wife filed a motion to strike the jury demand. The Gwinnett Superior Court granted the wife’s motion and conducted a bench trial, and the husband appealed.
The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the granting of the motion to strike the husband’s demand for jury trial. The Court emphasized that the husband knew of the trial date and had no legitimate reason for not attending. Though the husband argued that by not attending he did not intend to waive the demand for jury trial, the Court stated that his actions were an implicit waiver and the trial court was authorized to strike his demand.