Child custody (called “conservatorship” in Texas) is one of the most contentious parts of a divorce. Lawyers go back and forth at great expense to the parties to hash out an agreement. Both parents may believe they should have primary or sole custody, but the court may disagree. There is better option instead of fighting in court: mediation in child custody.
Mediation is an option for parties that are not able to reach an agreement. It’s an alternative to litigation that can help resolve conflicts faster and easier than always asking the court to make those decisions.
What Is Mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that takes place outside of a courtroom. A neutral third party, called a mediator, meets with both parties, listens to each, and works with both to come to a mutually agreeable settlement. Mediation can be used effectively in most civil disputes, including family law, personal injury, insurance, small claims courts, and other matters.
Mediators work with both parties to find common ground and reach a reasonable settlement for both sides. Parties can engage in mediation before, during, and after a court appearance, or in addition to a court appearance to resolve issues. Mediators are trained and experienced in helping parties work step-by-step toward a solution. Their job is to provide objective observations and propose a compromise that suits both parties and keeps them from needing to face a costly court battle.
Because mediation is not a court hearing, everything is confidential. The mediator won’t be called to testify in court, and nothing said in mediation will be discussed in front of a judge or jury. Mediation can also be less expensive than a trial since the parties settle differences without extended litigation.
Is Mediation a Requirement For Child Custody?
It might be, depending on what Texas county you’re in, and their local rules. Most courts require parents to attempt mediation 30 days before trial. The hope is the couple will work out an agreement using the tools of mediation and avoid trial.
Mediation for child custody cases is mandatory if the parents are fighting over custody, but they can also voluntarily opt for mediation. Parents can also ask for a waiver for requiring mediation if family violence is involved or if it is not likely to help.
Because courts prefer that parents make decisions themselves instead of letting the judge decide, mediation helps keep the dispute out of the already burdened family court system and gives parents greater control over their custody arrangements and future with their child.
How Can Mediation In Child Custody Cases Help?
Because a mediator does not engage in arbitration—a different form of ADR that’s closer to a court hearing—they cannot compel either party to sign an agreement. The final agreement is voluntary.
Both parties select a family law mediator and schedule a session. When the session begins, the mediator meets with each party (and their attorneys) in separate rooms. The mediator discusses each side’s concerns individually and explains options for their parenting plans to each.
A mediation decision involves compromise, so it’s unlikely that both parties will get everything they want. Once both parties settle their disputes and parenting plan, they will sign a mediation settlement agreement, which is binding and can’t be changed later. The agreement is brought into court and is part of the child custody order. Should the mediation not produce an agreement, then conservatorship arrangements will be decided by a judge.
Discuss Your Child Custody Issues with Attorney Hart
As an experienced and caring Mansfield-Fort Worth Child Custody attorney, Wendy Hart understands the passionate emotions parents feel when it comes to their children’s well being. Often mediation is a way each parent can be heard without either one being embarrassed or yelled at and a neutral mediator can help broker an agreement themselves.
The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart represents both moms and dads in custody matters and can work with you for a successful mediation. Use our online contact form, or call us at (817) 842-2336 to learn more.