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Jury Trials in Florida Family Law?

When most people think of a trial, they picture what they have seen on TV: a jury of their peers, and an attorney making passionate arguments trying to persuade this jury to vote in their favor. In family law trials are not by jury, but are instead by judge. This means that the passionate arguments made by your lawyer are made only to the same judge that you have been appearing in front of each time you went to court.

The right to a jury trial stems from the common law of England in the 1800s, which predates the constitutional right to a trial by jury. When the right to a trial by jury was implemented by the Constitution, it was implemented only the extent that jury trials were provided at common law. At common law, only legal rights and contentions, and not equitable demands taking place in what were then referred to as "court of chancery," were entitled to jury trials.

This issue was decided by the Supreme Court of Florida in 1897 in a case called Hughes v. Hannah. Today's family law courts are known as court of equity, and the proceedings which take place in family law courts are defined by statute (Florida Statue 61.011) as being in chancery. Unless there is a claim unrelated to the principles of family law and equity, there is no entitlement to a jury trial in a dissolution of marriage case. The best way to ensure that your rights are protected in a family law trial is to make sure you are represented by competent counsel throughout the proceedings.

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