Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, divorce is not a one stop shop with a one-size-fits-all Band-Aid. Different relationships have different needs, and, as a result, there are actually many different ways you can sever a marriage—many of which are much more effective than a courtroom, judge, and gavel.
Here’s how divorce mediation works in Texas, and how the Neal Ashmore team can help you navigate yours.
In terms of divorce, mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution, where couples meet together to try and reach a settlement agreement outside of court.
To help keep things civil and on track, this process is overseen by a licensed, third party individual, known as a “mediator.” A mediator’s purpose is not to represent either party, but instead, to help both sides reach a settlement.
As a general rule, courts are almost always willing to sign off on an agreement that a couple has reached on their own. Hence, spouses are encouraged to try and resolve as many issues as they can during these discussions. This may include property division, debt, alimony, but can even include parenting plans for those with children.
Mediation has a lot of perks that you can’t find in a normal trial. When compared to contested litigation, mediation:
- Costs a lot less;
- Achieves faster results;
- Offers more control over the outcome;
- Minimizes disruption to emotions and routines (especially for children); and,
- Establishes good, long-term family patterns.
In addition to these benefits, mediation is confidential and non-binding. This means that whatever you discuss during your meetings stays in those meetings, so nothing can be used against you in court later on, if your negotiations fall through.
Because it offers so many advantages, Neal Ashmore encourages all their clients to at least try mediation before heading to trial, even if it’s not required.
Does Texas Require Mediation?
The Texas Family Code does not require couples to attend mediation as part of divorce.
That being said, most Texas judges will order mediation, before they’ll hear your case in court. This helps keep the court schedule streamlined by weeding out cases that don’t need judicial oversight in order to be solved.
Do I Need an Attorney for Mediation?
As with everything in divorce, you are never absolutely required to do anything, and this includes having an attorney present. At the same time, just because you don’t have to, doesn’t mean you should.
Self-representation is almost never in a person’s best interest. On your own, it’s too easy to give up essential rights, and these mistakes can be costly (sometimes impossible) to reverse.
“But I have a mediator,” you might say. “Can’t they tell me the law?”
Technically, yes. Most mediators are going to have a pretty good understanding of divorce law. However, it’s important to remember: it’s not their job to represent your interests. It’s their job to reach a solution. Meaning that without an attorney present, you run the risk of having your best interests put aside in favor of an overall solution.
In short, while mediation might be less taxing and confrontational than a trial, it’s still a form of contested divorce, which means it’s always better to go into these proceedings with the right backup.
How to Begin Mediation
Once you’ve decided to give mediation the old college try, the first thing you’ll need to do is choose a mediator.
If you’ve hired an attorney, then they will likely give you some referrals. If not, an internet search works just as well to find a mediator, as it does for your nearest pizza delivery. Either way, don’t feel pressured into hiring the first one you come across. Instead, take your time, and be sure to select an individual that both you and your spouse are comfortable working with.
If it helps, make a list of the things you’d expect from a mediator. Consider your time frame, and the issues that need to be resolved in your case. What kind of person would be best suited to oversee those issues? Do you want a mediator who is more hands on? Or one who largely refrains from offering advice? Questions like these will help you narrow down your selection of potential candidates.
How Much Does Mediation Cost?
Like attorneys, most mediators charge their services on an hourly rate. This rate will vary, based on the experience and licensure of the mediator, but can typically run between $100-$300 per hour.
In order to avoid the appearance of preferential treatment, both sides will be expected to contribute to this hourly rate. And this cost will be in addition to whatever fees you’re paying your own, individual attorneys.
How long Will Mediation Last?
Mediation works around the couple, not the court. Hence, these sessions can really take as long or as little as you need them to. Some couples are able to resolve matters with only one or two sessions, while others need longer.
A few of the biggest factors that will influence how many sessions you’ll need include:
- The complexity of the issues;
- Whether or not the couple has children;
- Whether or not there’s a prenuptial agreement; and,
- How willing both parties are to compromise.
What Happens After You Reach an Agreement?
At the end of mediation, your terms will be complied into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (or “MSA”). This document isn’t usually very long, and is meant to act as a template for your final order. Before signing, both sides will have the opportunity to review the MSA with their attorneys, to make sure that the language properly reflects the intent of their agreement.
Once you sign an MSA, there’s no going back, so it’s important not to rush this step. Later on, if your judge believes that the final order properly reflects the terms outlined in your MSA, then they are obligated to sign said order, even if you’re having second thoughts.
Divorce Mediation Attorneys in Texas
While it does mark the end of an era, divorce doesn’t have to be as hostile as many people think. Through resolution methods like mediation, couples can reach an agreement faster, cheaper, and with a much greater likelihood of long-term satisfaction in the outcome.
If you have more questions about divorce mediation in Texas, we want to hear from you. Contact Neal Ashmore today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help you start the next phase of your life with the right foot forward.