Jury Trial in Texas child custody case

In Texas, the role of a jury in child custody cases is defined by specific rules. This guide breaks down what a jury is allowed to decide and what is beyond their scope, according to Texas Family Code § 105.002. If you’re heading into a custody battle, understanding these distinctions can be crucial.

The Role of a Jury in Custody Cases

Texas is unique in allowing jury trials for certain aspects of family law cases, including child custody. This means that, in some situations, a jury can decide on important elements of your child’s future. However, their power isn’t unlimited, and knowing where their jurisdiction ends and where the judge’s begins is key.

What a Jury Can Decide

Under Texas Family Code § 105.002, a jury has the authority to make decisions on:

  • Whether one parent should be the sole managing conservator or if both parents should be joint managing conservators.
  • Who gets the right to decide where the child lives.
  • If there should be a geographic limit on where the child can live.
  • Appointing a possessory conservator, someone who has visitation rights but not primary custody.

These decisions are crucial because they directly affect where and with whom the child will live.

What a Jury Cannot Decide

Despite the significant role juries play, there are clear limits:

  • Juries don’t decide on child support amounts or duration.
  • They can’t specify the terms of visitation or access to the child.
  • They don’t determine the specific rights and duties of conservators beyond the decisions about residence and geographic restrictions.

These limitations ensure that while juries can set the framework for custody, they don’t get involved in the financial or detailed scheduling aspects of the child’s care.

When a Jury Is Not Involved

There are specific situations where the law does not allow for a jury decision, such as in adoption cases or when determining a child’s parentage. These are considered too complex or sensitive for a jury and are decided by a judge.

The Judge’s Role in Jury Trials

While the jury has a say in many aspects of a custody case, the judge has the final say in several important areas:

  • Setting child support, including the amount and how it’s paid.
  • Detailing the visitation schedule and any conditions around it.
  • Deciding on the specific legal rights and responsibilities of each parent.
  • Handling protective orders, divorce proceedings, and the enforcement or modification of custody orders.
  • Making decisions on adoption and termination of parental rights, as well as establishing paternity.

One critical limitation on the judge’s role is their inability to interview the child in chambers about matters the jury will decide. This ensures that the jury’s decisions are based solely on the evidence presented in court, maintaining the integrity of the jury’s role in the custody decision process.

Additionally, the judge has the responsibility to ensure the trial runs fairly and according to the law, stepping in on matters that are not within the jury’s purview.

Conclusion

Understanding the division of decision-making between a jury and a judge in Texas child custody cases is essential for parents preparing for court. While a jury can decide on key aspects of custody and residence, the judge oversees the finer details of child support, visitation, and legal rights, and cannot interview the child on matters for the jury to decide. This balance ensures that both the broader and more specific needs of the child are considered. If you’re facing a custody case, getting familiar with these roles can help you navigate the process more effectively, ensuring you’re prepared for every stage of the trial.

To retain an experienced Texas divorce lawyer for your divorce or child custody case in DallasDentonCollin or Rockwall County, please schedule a consultation with us today.