Texas Divorce Laws

Divorce Mediation in Texas: How a Mediated Divorce Works

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
May 18, 2022

When you are getting divorced in Texas, there are a number of different avenues you can take. While you can go through the full litigation process, a lot of divorcing couples try to avoid this outcome if possible because it can be costly, stressful, and lengthy. For this reason, divorce mediation in Texas can be an appealing alternative.

Though a mediated divorce will be more expensive than a DIY, agreed-from-the-get-go divorce, it can be a good middle-ground for couples that have some issues they simply can’t agree on.

Are you wondering how a mediated divorce works, exactly?

Let’s dive in and take a look at what you need to know about Texas divorce mediation.

What Is Divorce Mediation?

two people in divorce mediation in Texas

Divorce mediation is an alternative to the formal process of litigation in divorce to help you and your spouse reach a settlement agreement.

If you and your spouse have some terms to work out in regards to your divorce, you might choose to undergo mediation rather than a divorce trial. In many instances, mediation can be less expensive, less stressful, and faster than a trial in court.

During divorce mediation, you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party that specializes in mediating the process of divorce. One of the benefits of going this route is that you and your spouse are able to maintain control and power over the outcomes of your divorce, rather than having a judge determine the final terms.

Even when a relationship disintegrated due to a lack of communication, mediation can be an opportunity to build communication skills. If you and your spouse have children, mediation can help set a positive tone for communication going forward as you manage parenting your kids as a divorced couple.

When children are involved in your divorce, you’ll want to find a mediator that is trained to deal with issues like child custody, child support, and visitation.

A good mediator will have extensive knowledge of the divorce laws in your state and be experienced in conflict resolution. They will also be willing to work with both of you to eliminate the drama that can go hand-in-hand with divorce and help facilitate productive and meaningful dialogue.

It’s important to note that mediators won’t make decisions for you. They aren’t a judge but instead are a third-party that can help keep the conversation on track and assist the two of you in reaching terms that you both find acceptable.

When Can You Use Divorce Mediation in Texas?

couple with texas mediator in divorce

You can begin the process of mediation either before you file for divorce or after.

At any point before the divorce process is final, mediation is an option in the state of Texas. In some cases, the judge may order you and your spouse to undergo mediation before you’ll be allowed to have a final hearing in your divorce.

Before Filing for Divorce

Getting a divorce without going to trial is definitely the cheapest, least time-consuming, and least-stressful option on the table. In some cases, couples might be able to agree upon all of the terms of their divorce without any type of outside help. In these instances, they can pursue an “agreed divorce” (sometimes referred to as an uncontested divorce.)

If the two of you simply can’t reach an agreement, though, mediation might be the right choice. If you are able to come to a settlement through the mediation process, it means that you can still pursue an agreed divorce. It’s also possible to go this route without hiring a lawyer, though, depending on your situation, it might still be advisable to do so.

Going through a contested divorce can be drawn-out, dramatic, expensive, and stressful. It can also increase the impact of the divorce on children that are involved in the divorce process. Even if the relationship you have with your spouse is on very thin ice when you decide to pursue a divorce, it is really in the best interest of all parties involved to try and avoid the outcome of a divorce trial in court.

After Filing for Divorce

If one of you has filed for divorce before you have agreed on all of the issues at hand, you can still choose to use divorce mediation to help the two of your reach a settlement. As mentioned above, it also isn’t uncommon for judges to order divorcing couples to go through mediation before going to trial. In some counties, judges might always order that spouses go to mediation before either the temporary or final hearing of a divorce.

If spouses or unable to agree on a mediator, a judge might appoint a particular mediator to the couple.

While judges have the right to order divorces or child custody cases to mediation under Texas law, the policies and practices will vary between Texas counties in terms of court-ordered mediation.

How a Mediated Divorce Works in Texas

divorcing couple in mediation in Texas

In Texas, divorce mediation can be something you and your spouse choose to do or it can be ordered by a judge.

Since the divorce laws vary depending on the state you live in, it’s worth understanding the mediation process in your home state. Let’s take a look at the typical sequence of events in a Texas-mediated divorce.

Hire a Divorce Mediator

Once you and your spouse have decided that mediation is the right step for you (or if a judge has ordered the two of you to undergo mediation), it’s time to hire a divorce mediator.

You’ll want to look for a number of qualities in a divorce mediator to help ensure that you are setting yourself up for the best possible outcome:

  • Specialized knowledge and experience with the types of issues involved in your divorce
  • Appropriate training in the field of divorce mediation
  • A personality that both spouses feel fits their needs

It’s worth shopping around for the right mediator as who you choose can have a significant impact on how productive your sessions are. You can ask for personal recommendations from people you know and trust that have gone through a divorce and ask marriage counselors or therapists you have worked with for referrals. You can also ask your local courthouse for a list of local mediators or look online at mediators in your area.

Attend Mediation Sessions

Once you have selected a mediator that both you and your spouse feel comfortable working with, the next step is to start attending the sessions.

It is common for you and your spouse to meet separately with the mediator, but it’s also possible for the two of you to meet with the mediator at the same time in the same place. If you or your spouse has hired a lawyer, they can also attend the sessions and give you advice during mediation.

In some instances, mediation might only take one session. If there are a number of issues to work out, though, or a fundamental disagreement that is difficult to overcome, mediation can also run for multiple sessions.

There aren’t any specific laws in Texas that outline how divorce mediation should occur except for some requirements about agreements that stem from mediation. In general, most mediations will go through the stages of:

  • An orientation
  • Issue identification and information gathering
  • Negotiation

When the process is complete, the mediator might help prepare a written agreement that outlines the decisions that were reached during negotiations.

Sign the Divorce Agreement

signing a divorce agreement in mediation in a Texas divorce

In Texas, if your settlement meets certain requirements, the judge will uphold the terms you and your spouse outlined in mediation.

When you and your spouse have reached a settlement agreement, written it out, and signed it, it is legally binding as soon as you both put your signatures on paper. If you have attorneys, they will also sign these documents if they are present at the time of your signatures. However, the signatures only make the settlement legally binding if the agreement states that it is “not subject to revocation” in a prominent way (meaning it is underlined, capitalized, or boldfaced.)

This means that neither of you are able to change your minds after you have signed. You are therefore bound to follow the provisions outlined in the agreement even before your final divorce decree is granted. In the state of Texas, this is true regardless of whether you signed the agreement in court-ordered or voluntary mediation sessions.

You aren’t required to come to an agreement during mediation, even if divorce mediation was ordered by a judge. A mediator is under no circumstances allowed to force you to come to a settlement.

In the case of unsuccessful mediation, your case will then move on to the trial phase. That is, unless you are able to settle the issues that remained unresolved at a later time prior to going to court.

File the Necessary Paperwork

If you and your spouse have reached a settlement agreement and signed the document, it’s time to file your final divorce paperwork with the court. These documents will include:

  • The proposed final divorce decree
  • A motion to enter a judgment based upon the settlement you reached

You will file your final divorce paperwork with the District Clerk’s Office at the local courthouse in your county. If you have an attorney, they can do this for you. Some mediators also offer services that include helping to file divorce paperwork with the courts.

Under Texas law, you are entitled to a final divorce decree that follows your mediated settlement terms when it meets the requirements of the law. These requirements are:

  • The document must state that the agreement is not subject to revocation in capital letters, bold typeface, or underlined
  • It must be signed by both individuals involved in the mediation
  • If either party’s attorney is present at the time that the parties sign the agreement, the attorney(s) is/are required to sign as well

You are entitled to a final divorce decree that is in agreeance with your settlement regardless of whether you underwent mediation before or after filing for divorce. There are only two exceptions to this rule. A judge can refuse to enter a divorce decree based on the content of a mediated settlement agreement if they find that the settlement resulted from fraud, coercion, or duress or if it was illegal. They can also do so if the settlement agreement is not in the best interest of an involved child and one of the following two statements are true:

  • The settlement agreement allows a parent with a history of sexual or physical abuse unsupervised access to a child
  • One of the spouse’s decision making could have been impaired due to being a domestic violence victim

Even if a judge thinks that a settlement is not in a child’s best interest or is unfair, they cannot refuse to enter the divorce decree based on the settlement agreement unless one of those two statements is true.

The rules regarding mediated settlements don’t apply to agreements that were reached outside of divorce mediation, whether a settlement was reached through your lawyers or on your own.

For a complete guide to the Texas divorce forms you’ll need when you file for divorce, take a look at this article.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Divorce Mediation in Texas?

The easiest, least expensive, and least stressful way to get divorced in Texas is to file for an agreed divorce. In reality, that simply isn’t always possible right from the get-go. You and your spouse might have certain issues upon which you fundamentally disagree, and mediation can help you reach a settlement that you’re both comfortable with.

Some of the advantages of mediation include:

  • You can save money using mediation when compared to divorce litigation
  • It can allow you to finalize your divorce faster than with divorce litigation
  • It allows you to have more control over the outcome rather than letting a judge decide
  • The process is confidential
  • It can be a lot less stressful than divorce litigation
  • It can be easier on your children

Before you hire a mediator, though, you’ll also want to know some of the drawbacks of divorce mediation. These include:

  • The possibility that mediation is actually just prolonging the inevitable outcome of divorce litigation, which actually makes the whole process more time consuming and more expensive
  • The process can be stressful, emotional, and ultimately fruitless if one or both parties are unable to compromise
  • It often isn’t the best option if one spouse is abusive, manipulative, uncooperative, or dishonest
  • Mediators won’t tell you what to do nor will they provide legal advice, but will instead help facilitate an agreement (this can be a pro or a con depending on your situation)
  • If your spouse is hiding assets it is less likely to be discovered than if you go through divorce litigation

Mediation can be a reasonable middle ground for a lot of couples that are going through a divorce. Your experience with mediation will likely have a lot to do with the specific mediator you hire and the circumstances of your marriage and divorce. In some instances, such as a particularly contentious divorce where communication is no longer possible, mediation might be a step that only makes divorce more drawn-out and more expensive.

In case you were curious, the process for dissolving a common law marriage in Texas is basically the same as ending a formal marriage. You can learn more about Texas common law marriage laws in this guide.

How Much Does Divorce Mediation in Texas Cost?

There are a number of factors that will impact how much divorce mediation in Texas will cost. These include:

  • The number and complexity of issues that you and your spouse need to work out
  • The mediator’s hourly or per-session rate
  • How motivated you and your spouse are to come to a settlement and move forward with the divorce
  • The level of conflict in your divorce
  • How willing you each are to participate in mediation
  • Whether you have an attorney
  • Whether you choose remote or in-person mediation
  • Any extra fees that mediators might charge or services they offer

A typical total bill for divorce mediation in Texas ranges from $3,000 to $8,000. While this might sound steep, it’s worth comparing it to the cost of divorce in Texas. If you go to trial as a part of your divorce, you will likely pay quite a bit more than if you go through the process of divorce mediation.

In some Texas counties, there are free or low-cost mediation services provided by Dispute Resolutions Centers. However, they aren’t available in all counties and they usually require that you meet specific financial requirements. For example, couples only qualify for these services in Harris County if you make less than $80,000 a year combined and don’t own significant assets.

When Is Divorce Mediation a Bad Idea?

Even when you and your spouse have a lot of unresolved issues and hard feelings, divorce mediation can work for you. However, there are some instances where mediation really doesn’t make sense. Some examples include:

  • You have experienced domestic abuse
  • You fear for your or your children’s safety
  • You suspect that your spouse only wants to undergo mediation to stall the divorce process
  • Your spouse has historically been untrustworthy or deceitful
  • One of you is claiming fault in the divorce

In these instances, mediation might not be in your best interest or it might simply be safe to assume that it will be wasted time and energy. However, mediation really can help people outside of these types of circumstances come to an agreement even when they feel like they are standing on polar opposite sides on an issue.

Is Collaborative Divorce the Same Thing as Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce share some of the same benefits, but they are not synonymous terms. While divorce mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution, collaborative divorce is a formalized process under Texas law. This is a non-adversarial process where parties work to resolve their disputes without the involvement of a judge.

Parties must sign a collaborative family law participation agreement in order to engage in a collaborative family law process. They also both must have an attorney. This process can involve mediation in addition to other non-adversarial processes. In general, a collaborative divorce is often less expensive than divorce litigation but more expensive than mediation.

Are You Getting Divorced in Texas?

If you’re going through the process of divorce in Texas, understanding the laws of the state can make the whole process a lot smoother and a lot less stressful. Oftentimes, the things that stress us out the most are the things we don’t understand. That’s why we strive to provide no-nonsense, easy-to-digest information about the family laws in the Lone Star State.

Whether you’re already going through the divorce process or you’re just beginning to look into what it would entail, our growing library of articles can serve as beneficial resources no matter where you are in the Texas divorce process.

 

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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