Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Family law mediation

Divorce mediation is a process where you and your soon to be ex-spouse (or signficant other) meet with a neutral trained third party family law mediator to reach a settlement in your lawsuit (divorce or SAPRC  or modification).

There is no time limit to the mediation so that you have time to explore and discuss options.  There is no limit as to what issues can be discussed - spousal support, child support, assets, debts, visitation, children's hobbies, children's special needs, etc.

However, if a party admits to child abuse or threatens to commit a crime then the mediator MUST immediately stop the mediation process.  Other than those situations, mediation is a confidential, private process.

Many people like mediation because it is cheaper and faster than going to court.  The mediator asks both parties to be honest and negotiate in good faith.  The mediator attempts to level the playing field.  Neither party is allowed to emotionally or physically abuse the other spouse.  A mediator will attempt to diffuse emotions and focus on common goals to resolve your differences.  You will not be forced to enter into a final agreement.  The process is entirely voluntary.  You always have the right to continue with litigation and trial in front of a judge if you are not satisfied with the mediation process.

Many people like the fact that mediation is a private and confidential process.  The offers made cannot be mentioned to the Judge.  (Just like the Las Vegas ad -- what happens at mediation, stays at mediation.)  Often the mediator will "think outside of the box" and bring creative solutions that a judge could not offer because the Judge must follow the Texas Family Code.  A mediator can offer solutions outside the TX Family Code that might work better for you and your children.

Mediation can often begin the healing process to allow the parties to begin to co-parent their children.  Even though the marriage is ending, the parents will be co-parenting their children for the rest of their lives.  In fact, they will be co-grand-parenting their future grand-children.  It is often said that a marriage might be ending but the family endures.  Mediation is much less adversarial that a trial.  At trial, "mud" will be slung to show how bad each of you are - the hurt feelings are traumatic and will probably impact the children.  After "slinging" all that dirt then you get to leave the courthouse and try to co-parent your children together.  Mediation helps the divorcing couple create a parenting plan that focuses on what is best for the parents and the children.  No judge knows you and your children as well as you do.  A judge will make decisions -- but they will probably be decisions that neither of you like.

Mediation is usually not recommended if there has been extensive physical or mental abuse.  Attorneys recognize that there are a small percentage of cases that just need to go to trial in front of a judge.

If you reach an agreement, everyone signs a document called a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) that is filed at the courthouse.  It is binding and cannot be changed.  In other words, you are "stuck" with what you sign. The case is done - finished - completed.  Then an attorney must take the MSA and prepare the final paperwork so that a judge can sign it so that can be "enforced" at a later date if one of the parties does not follow the agreements that both of you agreed to do.

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).  There are many excellent websites that cover mediation.  Each state handles mediation slightly differently.  In the State of Texas, mediation is normally required before you can get a trial date before a judge.

Most family law attorneys won't tell their clients this when a case first starts, but over 90% of family law cases settle before trial before a judge or jury.  Most cases do not go before a jury because in Texas juries only hear a limited number of family law issues -- plus the cost is prohibitive to most people (expect to pay over $20,000 if you want a jury trial.)

If you have a family law case in Harris County, Texas, anticipate being sent to mediation before you get a hearing date in front of a judge.

There are 2 free mediation services in Harris County.  Private mediators charge from approximately  $250-$1,000 per side for 4 hours.

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