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A CHICAGO LAWMAKER wants to give Illinois jurors the power that juries in only three states have-deciding divorce cases. Jurors in Georgia, New Jersey and Texas are the only ones that may solve feuding couples’ differences. Judges typically handle divorce proceedings. Now, an Illinois official has introduced a bill asking for divorce juries in her state. State Representative Monique Davis, D-Chicago, said one of her constituents, an attorney she declined to identify, recently lost custody of his children because his ex-wife’s lawyer had a friendly relationship with the judge. While Davis stressed that most judges are fair and such cases are rare, she said the situation illustrated a conflict that would not have occurred if a jury handled the case. “In every aspect of our lives as Americans, we have the right to a jury trial except divorces,” Davis said. “I believe it’s just reasonable legislation to attempt to make things as fair as possible.” The bill has been assigned to the Illinois House of Representatives’ Civil Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether it should go to a full floor vote. Representative John Fritchey, D-Chicago, who chairs the committee, said members will have to examine carefully whether juries should be handling difficult issues that come up during divorces, such as child custody battles. “Oftentimes in divorce cases you’re dealing with a number of sensitive issues that go beyond pure legalities,” said Fritchey, a former Illinois assistant attorney general. “I think a judge may be in a better situation to separate the emotion from the law than a jury.” Davis said that under her proposal, juries would decide “the facts of the case,” such as who is at fault, but judges would likely still have the power to rule on issues such as child custody and visitation rights. In the three states that allow divorces to go to jury trials, such proceedings are still rare, officials said. In Georgia, juries may decide on financial issues such as property division, alimony and child support, while judges resolve child custody, visitation and attorney fees, said Shiel Edlin, a senior partner with Atlanta’s Stern and Edlin and chairman of the State Bar of Georgia’s Family Law Section. Edlin said his firm of six lawyers handles about 100 divorce cases annually, fewer than five of which go to jury trials. “Very few cases actually get tried by the jury and that’s the beauty of the system,” said Edlin, who tries one or two divorce cases in front of a jury each year. “The threat of 12 people that nobody knows deciding those issues keeps most rational people from ever having a jury trial.” While some of Georgia’s legislators have tried to get rid of such jury trials, lawyers have successfully guarded them, Edlin said. In Illinois, jury trials for divorces existed until they were eliminated in 1977, Davis said. In Texas, juries can decide certain issues in divorce cases if either party requests a jury trial in writing and pays the jury fee, which varies by county but typically costs about $40, said Jim Loveless of Fort Worth, Texas’ Loveless & Naylor. Juries may rule on issues such as the value of marital property, but a judge settles disputes such as visitation rights, he said. In 2005, fewer than 100 Texas divorce cases were tried by juries and only 36 of them led to a jury verdict, said Loveless, chairman of State Bar of Texas’ Family Law Section. During his 33 years in practice, Loveless said he had only 22 divorce cases handled by a jury, but he added he thinks every state should have that option.

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