In or near the San Antonio area, if you’re divorcing, fighting for child custody, or dealing with any other matter of family law, you need to know about mediation, and you need to be advised and represented – from the very beginning of the case – by a San Antonio mediation attorney.
Texas law does not require mediation in every family law case, BUT many individual counties in Texas have local rules requiring mediation before a jury trial or a child custody contested hearing. Additionally, the law gives a judge the discretion to order mediation when the judge deems it appropriate. Often when a contested case comes before a judge for final trial, the judge will ask whether the case has gone to mediation, and if not, order mediation then before the trial will take place. Family law mediation can involve a number of mediation sessions over a period of several weeks or months, although most of them are resolved the same day.
What is mediation? How does the mediation process work? If you’ll continue reading this brief discussion of mediation, family law, and your rights in Texas, these questions will be answered, and you’ll also learn where to turn for the legal help you may need with a matter of family law.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a process for resolving disputes outside of the courtroom. In the mediation process, both parties work to reach agreements with help from an objective third party mediator. The mediator guides the parties toward a settlement that is fair, just, and acceptable to each side.
A mediator is not an arbitrator, and no one may be forced to sign a mediated settlement agreement. Family law mediators have no authority to compel or order a settlement, so the success of mediation depends on the forthright and sincere participation of the disputing parties.
A mediation settlement agreement will be a compromise, so neither side can expect to get everything it wants. A signed mediation settlement agreement is binding, and it cannot be changed after both parties have signed it.
The beauty of mediation is that a great majority of cases settle in mediation even though, before it began, both sides felt that there was no way that the other side would be reasonable. If the case does not settle or if disputes arise later, nothing said in mediation is admissible in court because the mediation is confidential and the mediator cannot be called to testify. The mediation takes place in a private setting, rather than a public courtroom where embarrassing facts or false accusations may become fodder for gossip.
Another advantage is that the mediation may result in an agreement which makes sense to the parties but would have been impossible in court due to limitations the law places on the judge and rules regarding the admissibility of evidence. The judge may have time limitations and other distractions that keep the judge from knowing the facts and wishes of the parties in detail to the extent that the parties and mediator know them. The mediator has the time and information to custom craft an agreement to the particular desires of the parties and their own unique situation. As an added benefit, the mediation will take place in a more relaxed and comfortable setting than in a formal courtroom.
It is often said that mediation is cheaper than litigation in court and that may be true in many cases. If the lawyers must prepare for trial and more investigation is required, the attorneys fees and expenses may be quite a bit more than what has already been spent prior to mediation. Also, a mediated settlement agreement cuts off the chance of an appeal. However, the parties do have to pay the mediator as well as their own attorneys for the time spent in mediation.
What is a Mediator’s Role?
Typically in the mediation process, both sides spell out their positions on whatever is in dispute. The mediator meets separately with each party and may also meet with the parties together to seek common ground that may be the basis for a mediated settlement agreement.
In a divorce mediation, the mediator can offer specific suggestions about matters such as child support payments and visitation schedules. Mediation aims to settle all of the matters disputed in a divorce so that a final, written divorce agreement may be presented for the court’s approval.
The courts in Texas almost always sign off on mediated settlement agreements, provided that the agreements are compliant with Texas law and provided that – if children are involved – the best interests of those children are placed first. Time and time again people have tried to revoke or change a mediated settlement agreement on the grounds that it is not fair for one reason or another, but the courts continue to hold firm that the mediated settlement agreement cannot be set aside.
What If No Agreement Can Be Reached?
Whether you are involved in the mediation of a divorce or another family law dispute, successful mediation will probably be impossible if both sides accuse and blame one another or if alcohol, drugs, or domestic abuse is involved. The main exception to mandatory mediation rules is if one of the parties is accusing the other of domestic violence, although many times even those cases go to mediation by agreement. These matters typically have to be resolved in court.
In divorces and other mediated family law disputes, agreements sometimes are not possible, and one side may have no choice but to take the other side to court and ask the court to impose a settlement with fair terms and conditions. Mediation may at least narrow or clarify some issues or result in an agreed trial date, but there are times when no resolution at all is reached since the mediator cannot force the parties to agree.
If one side is not forthright and honest in the mediation process, it may not be possible to reach a final agreement. Cooperation from both sides is essential for a successful mediation. If mediation fails, a family law case goes to court, where the case will cost more and take more time.
How Does the Mediation Process Succeed?
Mediation can succeed when both sides are frank and candid with each other, want to be on good terms, do not condemn each other, and are able to disagree without acrimony or anger. Listed here are four suggestions for increasing the likelihood that your mediation will succeed:
- Be a good listener: Focus on what is being said by the other party. Stay on topic. Refrain from interrupting with accusations and attacks. You want the other party to hear you clearly, so give that party the same courtesy.
- Consult an experienced mediation lawyer: In the San Antonio area, before mediation begins, seek advice from a San Antonio mediation lawyer. A lawyer who has no mediation experience can’t help your chances of reaching an acceptable agreement. Better yet, find an attorney who has experience as a mediator and has been trained in family law mediation. Although your attorney will not be the neutral mediator in your case, your attorney will be familiar with the techniques and thought processes to help the mediation be successful.
- Be prepared: Before the mediation process begins, a San Antonio mediation attorney can help you prepare the financial disclosure statements and other pertinent documents that you’ll need. Preparation is one of the keys to success.
- Be willing to compromise: You are not going to get everything you want in the mediation process, so determine in advance what is important to you and where you might be willing to compromise. Mediation fails if either party is unwilling to compromise.
- Make sure that all of your questions are answered and all of your concerns are addressed: If an agreement is reached, read the final document carefully. Have your lawyer explain the document in detail, and be sure that it expresses what you have actually agreed upon.
What Can Happen in Court?
If mediation fails, a family law dispute goes to court. A divorce or any other family law case that goes to court can be frustrating, costly, lengthy, and complicated. Divorce trials in Texas, for instance, may entail subpoenas, motions, several court appearances, expenses for expert witnesses, and a number of delays. The accusations made in court under stress and in a desperate attempt to win a case are often hurtful and may cause further deterioration of the relationship that is needed to co-parent a child after divorce.
If a mediated settlement agreement cannot be achieved, and if your divorce or other dispute goes to a family court in the San Antonio area, you must be represented in the courtroom by a San Antonio family law attorney who will fight aggressively and effectively on your behalf.
However, mediation usually succeeds and ends with an agreement. It’s the practical way to resolve a divorce or any other family law dispute without the time, cost, or acrimony that a courtroom proceeding may entail.
What Else Should You Know?
To file for a divorce in the State of Texas, at least one spouse must have been living in this state for at least six months and must have been – for at least ninety days – a resident of the county where the divorce is sought.
To divorce in Texas or to modify a court order regarding alimony, child custody, or child support, seek advice first from a San Antonio mediation lawyer, and you may be able to resolve your dispute without a courtroom proceeding. Mediation is often less stressful, less expensive, and obtains a more satisfactory result than taking the case all the way through a trial.