Juries in Virginia Divorce
If you read my article on Monday about common law marriage in Virginia, you should know by now that sometimes I write articles about things that don’t exist as much as things that do. (See also my article on Pro Bono divorce assistance.)
I write it mostly because I find that these are common misconceptions that people have and it’s easiest to go ahead and address these head on, rather than just as a footnote in another article that you might not be looking for if you’re wondering about something that doesn’t exist.
Divorce Juries in Virginia
There are no juries in divorce cases in Virginia – in fact, I don’t believe there are divorce juries anywhere in these types of cases. Juries are reserved for criminal cases, where a person must be tried by a group of their peers to determine whether they’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In divorce, though we label participants as plaintiffs and defendants depending on the order in which they filed (the first to file is plaintiff, second is defendant), the words themselves don’t have the connotation in divorce that they do in a criminal matter. No one is preferred merely because of the order in which they filed; the defendant is not assumed to be guilty in a divorce case.
And, likewise, even though a divorce case may go to trial, there is no jury there to decide which party is right and which is wrong. In fact, in many ways, right and wrong are really not even a part of the equation. Though it is possible to file on fault and may be, strategically, an important part of your decision making, in very few cases does it really come down to determining right from wrong. As far as the judge is concerned (because it is the judge who makes these decisions in a divorce case), it’s really just a business transaction, and the chief decision is how to dissolve the marriage and divide the assets and liabilities as equitably between the two former partners as possible.
Juries…well, they certainly have their usefulness, but they wouldn’t be an appropriate tool to leverage in a divorce case. As guilt and innocence really aren’t in question here (though you may disagree, and though a judge may find fault with one party or the other—though, admittedly, that’s unlikely), there wouldn’t be much for a jury to do. A jury wouldn’t be employed to decide how your assets should be divided. In divorce, that’s a judge’s job. Should I say it again? There are no divorce juries.
In a lot of ways, that’s good—because certainly a judge’s rulings will, in general, be far more consistent than what you could expect from a jury. Juries, in general, are made up of people who are not attorneys or judges (in fact, judges and attorneys would never be selected to sit on a jury). They know little about the law. If they were making judgments in divorce cases, I think it’s probably pretty likely that their decisions would run the gamut, which would make predicting results incredibly difficult.
As it is, predicting results in a divorce are difficult enough. Judges vary in their opinions on certain things, like spousal support, so a wide range of verdicts are already possible. We always have to tell our clients that we don’t have any control over the outcome in a case where we have to go to court, and to tread carefully. It’s not really all that fun to leave your divorce up to the person in the room who knows the least about you, your husband, your children, and your assets.
It’s risky to go to court. It’s ALWAYS going to be risky. And it’d be still riskier if we left important decisions in a divorce case up to a jury.
Divorce is unique as an area of law for a lot of reasons, but partially because it’s so state-specific. There are a lot of rules that apply in one state but not another. Additionally, the laws change with some frequency—in Virginia, new laws as passed every year, and become effective on July 1st. It’s hard to have up to date, Virginia specific, divorce information. Even though juries have never been a part of the Virginia divorce process, there are a lot of other, specific, procedures, rules, and processes that it’s important to know before you get too far along in the divorce process.
The Virginia divorce process
If you’re facing a divorce in Virginia, it will definitely be beneficial for you to know as much as possible about the divorce process. It’s different than the process even in nearby states, like Maryland and North Carolina, so you want to take the time to ask questions and get the information you need before you get too far down the line.
A great place to start is by attending our Virginia divorce seminar, Second Saturday: What Every Virginia Woman Needs to Know About Divorce. It’s full of information, all furnished to you by a Virginia divorce and custody attorney, dedicated to representing women only in divorce and custody cases in Virginia. All the seminars are taught completely live, so you’ll even have a chance to ask your questions to the attorney (provided, of course, that they aren’t too case-specific; it’s not a confidential forum, so we want to take all steps possible to protect your information).
It’s a great way to get up to date information about Virginia divorce, and you can even attend the seminar as many times as you like without paying the attendance fee again. The cost is just $40 if you pre-register (click here to do so) or $50 at the door. For more information, visit our website.
Need information now? Don’t want to attend a seminar? Totally fine. We offer a free download of our Virginia divorce book (and can even send a hard copy if you live in our immediate area) that you can claim by clicking here.
It’s full of all sorts of valuable information, and was recently updated for 2017 to include sections on same sex marriage, and an expanded discussion of retirement assets in divorce.
Wondering whether you’ll need to hire an attorney, or what your options might look like? Request a free copy of our Women’s Guide, which will help you begin to understand what you should be doing now, at the beginning of the process, before things go any further.
For more information, or to go ahead and schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.