Illinois could join Texas in allowing couples the option of jury trials for their divorce proceedings if a new piece of legislation were to become law. State Representative Monique Davis of Chicago recently introduced this Illinois divorce legislation with the hope of curtailing those instances when human nature interferes and judges determine divorce proceedings based on their own personal beliefs or biases.
Davis said in a Springfield Journal Register story that she introduced this piece of Illinois divorce legislation after a constituent complained that his divorce was negatively affected by an alleged friendship between the judge and his ex-wife's divorce lawyer. Davis added that the man told her he felt like he had no options during his Illinois divorce, and thus she proposed the legislation to try to create fair proceedings in which one side did not feel as if they were at a disadvantage. With a jury trial, potential jurors would be specifically asked if they had any biases or prejudices. If so, they would obviously not be selected to the jury.
This proposed Illinois divorce law would be very similar to Texas divorce law currently allowing couples the same option of choosing jury trials for their divorce proceedings. According to Texas divorce law, a jury may decide custody arrangements, contested property value or whether the property is separate or community. Texas juries can not determine if there are grounds for divorce or decide who gets the property, according to a Texas family law attorney quoted in the Springfield Journal Register story. The Illinois divorce legislation does not specifically address whether juries can award property, but is very similar in these other aspects.
Davis said in the story that she does not expect many people to choose jury trials if it becomes an option under Illinois divorce law, but still feels that couples should have this option. Texas figures have already demonstrated how few couples have chosen the option of a jury trial during their divorce proceedings. There were only 75 jury trial requests for Texas divorce cases during 2005, a year which saw more than 6,800 divorces in January alone.
Despite these low figures, opponents of a similar Illinois divorce law feel that couples should not have the option of jury trials for several reasons. They argue that divorce proceedings are complicated to begin with, and involve enough emotions as is to be viewed in front of a jury. Opponents consequently worry that jury trials will become a forum for Illinois divorce lawyers to sell the jury on the merits of their clients while discounting the other spouse.
Opponents are even more concerned about how such an Illinois divorce law would affect the children involved. They argue that the divorce process is hard enough on children and does not need to be further exacerbated by drawn-out trials which create more uncertainty. They also state that is irresponsible to let a jury decide any issue, especially child custody, which directly impacts the children of those parents getting divorced. Opponents specifically doubt that members of a jury are equipped to make a decision on child custody, and feel that a judge would have the experience and expertise to better do so.