Mediation of your Houston Divorce Case
Many people going through a divorce are not familiar with what mediation entails. This article will describe the process and explain its uses and benefits in a divorce case.
What Mediation Is and What It Is Not
Mediation is essentially a settlement conference attended by both parties and both lawyers and facilitated by a third-party mediator who attempts to get the clients to reach an agreement on all issues in their case. In a divorce case it is highly recommended that you have an experienced divorce mediator. While some mediators may disagree, the issues and emotions in divorce cases are unique enough that you need someone with specific family law experience. Assuming an agreement is reached at the mediation there will be a document describing the terms of the agreement that everyone signs before leaving. This document is known as a Mediated Settlement Agreement and it is binding and irrevocable once signed by the parties and the lawyers.
One issue that I have seen come up in recent years is parties wanting to “mediate” their case before anyone has hired a lawyer or even filed for divorce. Some “mediators” advertise online and elsewhere that they will assist the parties in reaching an agreement in their divorce case. Often these people are not lawyers or even mediators in any sense other than they have decided to call themselves mediators. Attempting to resolve the very important and long-lasting issues in a divorce case with someone unqualified and inexperienced is inadvisable to say the least.
Why Are We Attending Mediation?
There are two reasons to attend mediation in your divorce case. The first reason is there is an 80 to 90% likelihood that your case will settle at mediation. I have had many clients tell me ahead of time that their case was one of the 10 or 20% that would not settle and a few of them were actually correct about this. This brings me to the second reason why you attend mediation. Most counties through the Local Rules of Court require that all divorce cases be mediated prior to trial. Normally this means that if you show up for trial and have not attended mediation your case will be reset, or worse, dismissed. So even if you are certain that the case cannot be settled is mandatory prior to trial.
How Expensive Is Mediation?
Mediation is not cheap. That is one of the reasons why I believe that in most cases it makes sense to try to negotiate a settlement first and use mediation only if you are unable to settle the case without it first. Obviously, each party has to pay for their lawyer to attend the mediation. Depending on the length of the mediation, that could be anywhere between 4 to 10 hours or more that you’re paying the lawyer for. Additionally, the mediator charges each party a fee. I have seen mediation fees as low as $300 per party for a half-day mediation to as high as $1500 per party for a full-day mediation. In my experience a very good family law mediator is money well spent as it gives you a much greater chance of settling the case that day.
What If No Settlement Is Reached at Mediation?
If the mediation ends at an impasse (the mediator determines that no settlement will be possible that day) then the mediation ends and the parties proceed towards trying the case at the courthouse. The mediator has no authority to impose a decision or settlement upon either party. The mediators only role is to attempt to get the parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the terms.
Mediation is an exceptionally effective tool at helping parties to resolve difficult cases without the need for a trial. While the process is expensive it is infinitely less expensive, unpleasant and inconvenient than a trial is. If you have questions or comments about mediation in a Texas divorce, please fill out the comment section below.
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