In most courts in Collin, Denton and Dallas counties, mediation is required before you can have a final trial in a family law matter. In some of the courts it isn’t required but is “strongly encouraged.” In my opinion, almost every case is appropriate for mediation before you have a final trial.
Mediation is a confidential process that takes place outside of the courthouse. The parties hire a neutral, third party mediator to help try and get the case settled. Although some mediations occasionally involve an opening session with all parties, I have not seen that happen in a family law mediation in many years. Each party sits in a separate room with his or her own attorney. The mediator goes back and forth between the rooms to help the parties reach a settlement. The parties usually won’t even see each other, unless they happen to cross paths walking to the restroom or the parking lot.
Mediation can be a very slow process. Most divorces involving child custody issues will take a full, eight hour day. Sometimes they can last well beyond eight hours if there are a lot of issues in dispute. Cases involving only property issues can take less time unless there are significant property issues to address. Although many mediators offer half day (four hour) mediations, it is extremely rare for a family law case to settle in that short of a time.
Although mediation can get expensive when you add up the mediator’s fees and attorney’s fees on both sides, it is usually a lot less expensive than going to trial. Further, it is a great way to help get cases settled in creative ways. Judges are limited in what they can order in a trial, but the parties can agree to all kinds of arrangements at mediation.
The vast majority of my clients are convinced that their cases have no hope of settling at mediation, but the vast majority of those cases do actually settle at mediation. Parties tend to think that if they cannot settle the dispute on their own, why would it settle at mediation? But the reality is that mediators have jobs for a reason. Their help can be critical to getting cases settled.