The firm's attorneys frequently serve as neutral attorney-mediators for divorce and custody cases in which they do not represent the parties.
In addition, the firm's attorneys all have extensive experience preparing their clients for court-ordered mediations, and in assisting them during the mediations.
Mediator Services: Information for Attorneys
Mediation is Mandatory
If a divorce or custody case is proceeding to trial, state law mandates that it must be mediated first. This provides an opportunity for the parties to settle their differences with the help of a neutral mediator and to avoid a trial before a judge. Mediation is often used in a collaborative case if the parties have reached an impasse.
The mediator is a neutral third party. Typically, this is an attorney with special training in mediation. The mediator is familiar with the basic facts of the case, the Texas Family Code, the area of law, and likely outcomes in court. Acting as a catalyst, the mediator listens to both parties, attempts to forge agreements, and to resolve differences. The mediation is most often held at the office of the mediator.
The Mediation Process
During a divorce or custody mediation, the two parties (each with his or her attorney) will likely sit in two separate rooms. The mediator moves back and forth between the two rooms, in an attempt to bring the parties to an agreement. He or she takes offers and counter-offers back and forth between the parties.
Unlike a judicial proceeding, the mediation process is client-driven and client-controlled. Attorneys are present to guide and give information, but the client makes the decisions. Because the process is absolutely confidential, mediation is a safe and protected haven. The parties are encouraged to discuss their fears, hopes and willingness to compromise.
Spreadsheets listing all assets and liabilities are prepared. Several different proposals using the spreadsheets are prepared and may be used as offers. The client is fully educated and prepared for the mediation process, and encouraged to use it to achieve a favorable and equitable settlement of all issues.
The length of the mediation session averages six to eight hours, depending on the issues involved and the attitudes of the parties.
A successful session results in a Mediated Settlement Agreement. This irrevocable document is signed at the end of the session by the parties and their attorneys. It serves as the basis for drafting the Final Decree and other legal documents.
Having reached this milestone settlement, parties often find they are more able to settle other issues directly with one another in the future.
Mediation and Parenting Plans
Issues involving the parties' minor children are set out in writing. These documents are reviewed by each party in detail, and can be used as part of the initial offer at mediation.
Specifically, each party will review the rights, duties and responsibilities of a conservator; a possession schedule (whether standard, as set out in the Texas Family Code, or tailored to a specific child's needs); an amount for monthly child support, based on a detailed budget of income and expenses; life insurance to secure child support; health insurance coverage; and funds for education beyond high school, if appropriate.