Divorce Mediation in Texas: The Benefits and Process
What is Divorce Mediation?
Divorce mediation is a civil mediation. It is also a private process. The mediator, a neutral person helps divorcing couples reach a an agreeable settlement. The couple decide the outcomes of their issues. If it is a simple divorce, then the parties simply agree on their separation. When other issues such as child support, custody, alimony, and property division are involved, the process might take longer. However, it is still cheaper.
A divorce mediation is confidential – like other mediations. Moreover, it is confidential. You can choose your own mediator or you can be ordered by a judge to meet with a court-appointed mediator. A mediator is not a judge, arbitrator, or counselor, but assists the spouses in reaching a voluntary agreement.
How is Mediation Used in Texas Divorce Cases?
Mediation is one of the most frequently used methods of negotiating a property or custody agreement in Texas divorce cases. An attempt at mediation is required (or strongly recommended) in many Texas counties. Travis County, for example, requires mediation when it’s anticipated that a hearing before a judge on a family law dispute will take three hours or more.
The Benefits of Mediation in Texas Divorce Cases?
Mediation has several benefits in divorce proceedings, including:
- There is a higher chance or success rate in resolving divorce issues
- You have control of the outcome of the issues
- Confidentiality. There is no court reporter during mediation or public record.
- Flexible solutions.
- You can still hire an attorney-mediator, if your case is complex (only for mediation).
- The settlement agreement is a binding contract that you can enforce in court.
How Long will Mediation Take?
A divorce mediation process can be as long or as short. The spouses must negotiate a full and fair agreement. Mediation could take one or two sessions. Or it can take many sessions over a period of months. It depends on several factors. First, how complex is the finances and custody issues of the couple? Secondly, how willing are the parties to compromise and reach an agreement? Regardless, mediation is shorter than litigation.
Also, it is not as expensive as legal fees that comes with hiring an attorney to fight for your interest. If you are not able to speak for yourself in mediation or unsure of your right, hire an attorney-mediator.
What Should I Expect in a Mediation Session?
You and your spouse may be in the same room for the entire mediation. You may meet in separate sessions so that you can give the mediator your opinions and positions in private. After meeting with both of you, the mediator will assess where you and your spouse agree. The mediator will also talk about where you need to reach agreement and how to accomplish this.
For example, if you and your spouse are dealing with the question of who stays in the family home, the mediator will help you figure out what information and materials you need to make a decision (such as financial records) and will ask each of you to commit to bringing these to the next session.
We Reached an Agreement, Now What?
Once you reach an agreement, the mediator will reduce it to writing. This is also called as a “Rule 11 Agreement”. It is found in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. When both parties sign the agreement, it becomes a binding contract. Once it is filed with the court and the judge signs it, the agreement becomes an order.
The attorney-mediators for the couple can also use the information in the Rule 11 Agreement to create a final divorce decree.
What Happens if we Cannot Reach an Agreement?
If mediation is not working or if you and your spouse have reached agreement on most, but not all issues, you will probably end up in court. The judge will make the final decisions on divorce issues.
Are There Situations When Mediation is not Appropriate?
If there is a history of domestic violence or substance abuse in your relationship, you may not really be in a position to engage in mediation. For example, if you’re the victim of domestic abuse, your spouse will undoubtedly have the upper hand in mediation, and may even try to intimidate you with the threat of further physical abuse in order to force you to accept an unfair agreement.
The couple’s agreements has to be voluntary. It cannot be out of duress (pressure) or fear. If your spouse is forcing you to accept unreasonable terms, you will walk away with an unfair agreement. You may have to live with these unfair terms for the rest of your life. For example, if a disabled child is involved in the divorce case, the child support amount is until disability is removed.
If you’re in this situation, you should contact an attorney and the local police department and/or domestic violence advocates for help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is: 1-800-799-SAFE.
How do I Find a Texas Divorce Mediator?
If the court orders you to go to mediation, it may appoint a mediator to you. Be ready to pay a fee the mediator’s fee. If you want to hire a private mediator, your attorney may have suggestions for you. Also, a family therapist or a friend may have recommendations for you.
Make sure that you hire a mediator who has experience in divorce cases.