shutterstock_40577908Mediation is an informal settlement negotiation process where a neutral third person (known as a mediator) assists the parties (typically, divorcing couples or single parents) to make informed decisions and reach an agreement—without court intervention—pertaining to their children, finances, property, and other issues relevant to a divorce or custody matter.

Mediation is well-suited for resolving family disputes and, in fact, most Southeast Texas judges require it before conducting a trial and entering a final order. Mediation allows people to control their future by putting them in charge of resolving their family dispute, rather than having a judge decide the issues for them. If left to the court, the judge must consider the parties’ respective legal rights and obligations, and could very well enter a final order substantially favoring one party over the other. Other advantages of mediation include:

  • Fostering cooperation between the parties involved.
  • Mediation is less divisive and stressful than a court action.
  • Jointly made decisions have a better chance of being honored.
  • Mediation reduces the cost and delay of court proceedings.
  • Confidentiality and privacy. A private mediation, rather than a public legal proceeding at the courthouse, will eliminate any potential adverse impact on the parties’ reputations, family, friends, and businesses.

A mediation is typically conducted at the mediator’s office, one of the lawyers’ offices, or a mediation facility. The parties attend with their lawyers, who advise them throughout the process. Mediation participants are not required to enter into a settlement. They are only required to participate in the process in good faith and with an open mind.

A mediation usually begins with a joint session where the mediator explains the process, and the parties communicate their positions. After the joint session, the parties and their lawyers typically go to separate rooms; the mediator will then go back and forth between the parties in an effort to hammer out a settlement. Problems will be identified and possible solutions explored. The goal is to achieve a practical, workable arrangement that is acceptable to all involved.

The mediator does not take sides. As an impartial third party, the mediator’s job is to manage the process, and facilitate the exchange of information and ideas. The mediator is not a judge, jury, or advocate. The mediator has no power to enter an order, or impose a settlement on either side. It is solely the parties’ decision whether to enter into a settlement and resolve the dispute.

If an agreement is reached at mediation, the parties will sign a formal document, known as a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA), which contains the settlement terms. The MSA is a contract. The MSA is binding and irrevocable—except under certain very limited circumstances. The parties must abide by the MSA. The court will enter a final order in accordance with the terms of the MSA.

Mediation is a confidential process. If no settlement is reached, the mediator will notify the court, but not communicate any details. The mediator cannot be called to testify as a witness at trial.

The length of time needed for a mediation depends on the complexity of the dispute, the commitment of the parties, and the mediator’s skill. Many disputes can be resolved in a single mediation session of two to four hours. Other cases may require longer sessions or multiple day sessions.

Choosing the right mediator is critical to the success of a mediation. Although a mediator does not have to be an attorney, in family matters, it is important that the mediator be thoroughly familiar with the judge assigned to the case, and know the intricacies of the Texas Family Code. Sonya Coffman represents clients in family matters in courts throughout Southeast Texas. She knows the judges and their inclinations.

Sonya Coffman is the only Board Certified Family Lawyer in Southeast Texas who also is a Certified Public Accountant. In addition to representing clients in mediations, she is regularly called upon to mediate complex family, property, and business matters. If you need representation in a mediation or a skilled mediator to resolve your thorny family or business dispute, call Sonya Coffman because … family matters.