For most people, going through a divorce or custody action is a terrible and painful experience. The legal process of family law cases can be emotionally, not to mention financially, draining. Mediation is becoming an increasingly popular way to resolve these cases in a less adversarial manner which can reduce stress and yield more mutually beneficial results. In mediation, rather than both parties going to court and using a trial to resolve divorce issues, such as a property settlement, child support, and child custody, the parties and their attorneys will sit down with a neutral third party, called a mediator. The mediator helps both individuals come to a solution agreed upon by both parties. Mediation is highly favored by Texas courts, and all of the Denton County and Collin County District courts require cases to be mediated prior to holding a final trial.
Mediation offers many advantages to a couple working through a divorce. Mediation can be a less expensive option to contested litigation and usually results in outcomes that the parties are happier with long term. Mediation also allows spouses to put their cards on the table and tell the other party what they are willing to agree to in order to finish the divorce. It also helps to have a neutral third party assess each parties’ case and push them to resolution.
The Family Law Mediation Process
The parties generally will work together through their attorneys to select a mediator and set a date for the mediation. In the event the parties cannot agree on a mediator, the court will select one for them. On the appointed date, the parties will then meet with the mediator, one side at a time. Then the mediator will begin to take settlement offers from one side to the other and discuss each offer with the parties when the offer is delivered. The mediation process is confidential so everything discussed with the mediator will be kept in confidence and the mediator cannot be compelled to discuss what happened in the mediation with the court. Hopefully, as the day wears on, the parties will begin to reach agreements which can be put into a partial or complete Mediated Settlement Agreement.
Mediated Settlement Agreement
A Mediated Settlement Agreement is a contract entered into by the parties to resolve either their entire case, or certain portions of the case. A Mediated Settlement Agreement can only be set aside or ignored by the court in cases where a party is a victim of family violence and that fact affected their ability to make a decision in the case. The court is not allowed to make its own independent investigation of whether an agreement is fair or in the best interest of the children.
Once the Mediated Settlement agreement has been signed by all parties and their attorneys, it will be filed with the court by the mediator. The parties will then draft a Final Order based on the Mediated Settlement agreement and enter it to resolve the case. This process usually takes a month or so as the parties attempt to get the language of the final order correct and agreeable to each party.
Other than the fact that most courts require mediation prior to a final hearing, mediation also often helps parties reduce the tension involved in a family lawsuit. Also, parties who mediate are generally happier with the outcome than those who go to court, primarily because they feel like they were more directly involved in the outcome. When you decide to have the court make a final determination in your case, you are putting the most important decisions of your life in the hands of a third-party who will at most have a few hours-worth of information before they make a decision. We have great judges in Denton and Collin County, but the amount they will know about your life, your kids, and your case will always be as limited as the time you have to present your case to them. Mediation helps parties take control of their own lives and make the important decisions that affect both their children’s and their own futures.
Mediators can also help focus couples on present issues, rather than bringing up hurts from the past that can be unproductive in reaching an agreement. They can also help focus the parties on long term and immediate concerns. Further, they can also add a new perspective on what the court may do in a final hearing or have new creative solutions to the thorny problems that so often arise in family law cases.
Reasons to Avoid Mediation
In certain circumstances, Mediation may not be the right path for you. If you are the survivor of family violence or if the other party has shown no interest in bargaining in good faith, the court may allow you to skip mediation and go straight to a final hearing. These circumstances are specific to each person and case, and you should speak with a qualified attorney before requesting to skip mediation.
Contact Our Denton County Family Law Mediation Attorney
Mr. Youngberg has been a qualified mediator since 2016 and has been involved in several mediations both as the mediator and as a representative for a party. He is happy to discuss the process with you and the effect that it may have on your individual case. If you are interested in learning more about the mediation process, please contact Mr. Youngberg today.