A Basic Guide to Mediation in a Divorce with Children in Texas

A father carries his son on his shoulders.

Mediation can be a very useful process in settling issues during a divorce. It offers the parties a positive way of reaching resolutions on contested issues outside of court. Mediation requires an objective third-party to facilitate open discussions so that the parties can assess solutions and agreements that are satisfactory on both sides.

Anyone entering a divorce should work to attain a basic understanding of the different requirements and steps of the process specific to their state, especially if there are children involved. Below are the basics of mediation in a divorce involving children in Texas.

Does Texas Require Mediation in a Divorce?

Texas Family Code Sec. 153.0071 states that Texas courts may refer a suit affecting the parent-child relationship to mediation. Texas courts often encourage peaceable resolution of disputes through voluntary settlement procedures before heading to court, with special consideration given to disputes involving parent-child relationships.

Mediative procedures (mediation) is one of three broad categories of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures in Texas. Of all the available options, mediation is often considered the most flexible one as it empowers the parties involved to have a greater say in the outcome of their divorce.

Objections to Mediation Due to Family Violence

In Texas, divorcing parties with a history of family violence may not have to attend mediation. Texas Family Code Sec. 6.602 states that any time prior to the final mediation order, a party may file a written objection to the court's referral to mediation on the basis of family violence having been committed by the other party. Once filed, the case may not be referred to mediation unless the party accused of family violence requests a hearing to review the evidence supporting the accusations and determine whether the objection should be upheld. 

In cases where the parties are still referred to mediation despite allegations of family violence, mediators must take measures to ensure the safety of the objecting party. This can include no face-to-face contact and separate rooms for each party during mediation.

Court-Ordered Mediation vs. Voluntary Mediation

Mediation in a divorce involving children in Texas can be either court-ordered or chosen voluntarily. If mediation is court-ordered, the divorcing parties do have the opportunity to find a private mediator. The parties must agree on whomever they choose as their mediator, and if they cannot agree, the court will appoint one. If the parties go through mediation and use a court-appointed mediator, it is possible for the scope of what they cover in mediation to be rather limited.

Private mediation services in Texas can be more comprehensive. While a court-appointed mediator may only have a limited amount of time to work with the parties, a private mediator's time won't be as restricted. Apart from child-related matters, the parties can use private mediation services to work on other contested areas of the divorce, such as child and spousal support, property division, assets, and debts. 

What is the Role of a Mediator in a Divorce in Texas?

A mediator's role in a divorce in Texas is to be a neutral third-party that facilitates discussions to help the parties reach agreements. It is also the role of a mediator to keep these discussions confidential.  

Mediators cannot coerce or compel the parties to settle on any matter. Also, a mediator is not allowed to disclose information about what occurred in mediation. They can only report to the court on whether or not a matter was settled during their sessions. Mediators are not allowed to disclose any information offered in confidence by one party to the other unless there is express consent. Mediators cannot share any offers made during mediation with the court, and mediators cannot be called as witnesses if the case goes to trial.

If an agreement is reached during mediation, a Mediated Settlement Agreement is executed. This is a written agreement that, according to Texas Family Code Sec. 6.602, is binding if signed by both parents and their attorneys, and includes a prominent statement which states that the agreement is not subject to revocation.

What Should You Look For in a Mediator in Texas?

Mediators must have completed at least 40 classroom hours of dispute resolution technique training. A mediator in a parent-child relationship dispute must have completed that same training plus 24 hours of additional training in the fields of family law, child development, and family dynamics—plus a minimum of four hours of family violence dynamics training. 

If you are seeking a mediator to assist with child-related matters in your divorce, be sure to find a Texas mediator who is qualified to serve as an impartial third-party in disputes involving parent-child relationships. You may also consider seeking a mediator who is or has been practicing family law as an attorney. While your mediator cannot offer legal advice to you, their unique insight into family law due can still be to your benefit.

How Much Does Mediation Tend to Cost in Texas?

Dispute Resolution Centers across Texas offer county-specific mediation programs. The services provided through these programs are often low-cost or even free. 

Many private mediators in Texas charge by the hour and per party, and costs vary significantly from one mediator to another. Even if you do end up paying a high hourly rate for private mediation, the overall cost of your divorce could still end up being considerably less expensive when compared to a lengthy litigation process. 

Note: This information is meant to provide a brief, general overview of mediation processes in Texas. Please refer to your attorney or other family law practitioners in your local area to provide guidance specific to your case.