Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Binding Mediated Settlement Agreements in Texas Family Law and Child Safety

Texas Law provides for binding mediated settlement agreements in family law cases. The purpose of this is to encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution. (settlement of a case by a method other than going to trial. Mediation and Arbitration are two methods of alternative dispute resolution).

If you go to a family law mediation you may reach an agreement and be asked to sign a Mediated Settlement Agreement.  

The Texas Family Code states in section 153.0071: 
(d) A mediated settlement agreement is binding on the parties if the agreement: (1) provides, in a prominently displayed statement that is in boldfaced type or capital letters or underlined, that the agreement is not subject to revocation; (2) is signed by each party to the agreement; and (3) is signed by the party's attorney, if any, who is present at the time the agreement is signed.

In family cases involving children judges normally inquire broadly about many aspects of the best interests of the children. However, in a case that has a binding mediated settlement agreement the court does not perform the usual broad inquiry. But, if there is domestic violence involved then a normally irrevocable Mediated Settlement Agreement may be overturned.  The intent of Texas law is to encourage settlement, but not at the expense of a child's safety. A recent Texas Supreme Court case has specified that MSAs be handled by trial courts in this way. 

If you go to a mediation in your Texas family law case and you are not in agreement with the offer on the table, don't sign it. Binding MSAs will generally be upheld in front of arbitrators and judges. 

MSAs reduce court time, legal fees and expenses, and prevent "taking a chance" with a judge or jury because you know what you are dealing with and are able to actively participate in crafting the terms.  Be sure to think everything through when you are about to agree to one, and talk to your lawyer about all aspects of how your children may be affected. Extra caution is urged when dealing with custody and visitation issues in situations that may pose a risk of child injury. 

Kalish Law Office Divorce Attorneys The Woodlands Texas 

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