Sharon Corsentino | A Mediator’s Guide to a Successful Mediation

Today we welcome Sharon Corsentino to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Sharon is a Credentialed Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.

Prior to making the decision to devote her practice to mediation, she built a very successful family law practice working as a litigator for over 13 years throughout North Texas.

Today we are going to talk to her about why mediation is often the best option your client has to craft a settlement aligned with their needs, how and when it works best, and:

  • The key to a successful mediation for your client
  • 3 tips for setting your client’s mediation expectations
  • The 5 things needed to prepare for property distribution
  • Her advice to young attorneys
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Sharon Corsentino: If people would do a better job of preparing their clients in advance on some of the options available to them for settlement, that you might have a better opportunity to move more quickly.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Sharon Corsentino as our guests on the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Sharon has a dedicated media mediation practice in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, focusing primarily on family law, probate, guardianship and small civil matters. She’s the current president of the Association of Attorney Mediators, North Texas chapter, immediate past chair of the ADR section of the Dallas Bar Association, and a director for the State Bar of Texas ADR Council. She holds a bachelor’s degree in German from the University of Texas at Austin, and a JD from Washington University in St. Louis. When she’s not busy mediating and it’s not a pandemic, Sharon and her husband of 25 years are avid travelers. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Sharon: Hi, good morning. Thanks for having me.

Holly: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and family law.

Sharon: Um, okay, so I I’ve often said, I’m the accidental family law attorney. In 2003 when I graduated from law school, the economy was not great for lawyers and finding a job was a bit of a trick and I had been going to school out of state. So relocating back to Texas, which is my home state, was a bit challenging, and I just sort of fell into family law by accident, because I had always sworn I wasn’t going to practice family law when I was in law school. But here I am, 18 years later. And that’s been my primary focus. And I just, I found that I really liked working with people. And I liked helping people come up with solutions when they were going through a difficult time and period in their lives.

Holly: What made you decide to focus your practice on mediation.

Sharon: So kind of almost from the beginning, when I started practicing law, I really just mediation just spoke to me and I really resonated with me. I liked the process, whether I was representing a party of mediation or whether I was serving as the mediator. And about, probably seven years ago, I really started evaluating, if I could make mediation a larger part of my practice. And finally in 2016, just decided to take the plunge because I found the litigation. And I also did collaborative, but primarily litigation was, was really taking up so much of my time that I couldn’t focus on trying to market and develop my mediation practice. So I sort of took the radical step of just abandoning all of that, and, and focusing exclusively on mediation.

Holly: So as an attorney, who represents the client mediation and is not the mediator, I often find mediation to be such a beat down, and it’s exhausting. And by the end of the day, you know, everybody’s just miserable. Is that your experience as the mediator? In those cases? Do you find it’s different? Because you’re not representing the client?

Sharon: I think it’s different, um, you know, I have I have the gift of sort of being the fly on the wall in both rooms. And I think that keeps my energy level up. Because I think sometimes when you’re in a conference room with your client, and you don’t really know what’s going on in the other room, and why things aren’t, you know, why there are obstacles that you’re not getting past that seemed pretty straightforward. As a mediator. You know, I have that gift of being in both rooms and kind of understanding people’s goals and interests. So I think that keeps my energy level up. But definitely the end of a long day. I’m done talking and I’m tired.

Holly: So how would you describe when you said you were focusing on mediation? I know you do a few other areas besides Family Law, what percentage of your practice is family law at this point, do you think?

Sharon: Oh, my gosh, probably 90 to 95%. You know, the other areas that I practice in in probate and guardianship and, and some small civil matters, somehow they always tie back to family law anyway, which is why I think I get brought in to those cases. And but definitely family laws is the bulk of my practice.

Holly: What are some of the benefits of mediating a family law case?

Sharon: I think, you know, Judge Garcia always said it best. She always said in mediation, you can approach the case with a scalpel and in really fine tune and, and try to customize the agreement, whereas in court, they use an axe. So you know, it’s a bit dramatic to explain it that way, but I think that that really draws the picture the best. And I think that that’s what people like about mediation is that they have a better opportunity to try to get what they want, or what they’re interested in and in settlement versus just risking it and letting the judge decide.

Holly: I think that’s a great analogy. And I think probably attorneys could be more successful in mediation, if they do a better job of explaining that to their clients. And understand that, you know, if we go, if we have a trial, yes, you’re going to get your day in court, but you’re going to probably get a pretty standard cookie cutter order one way or another. And here we can focus on your priorities, and the things that are important for your family that you would never be able to get in a courtroom.

Sharon: I agree. I have a dear friend from law school who mediates in Atlanta, and she mediates primarily like personal injury cases and civil matters. But she always tells people, nobody cares more about your case than you do. So, you know, don’t work under this false analogy that the judges are false, understanding that the judge is going to care as deeply about your case, as you do. It’s not that the judge doesn’t care, it’s just that the judge doesn’t have time to customize an order for every single case that comes before him or her.

Holly: Exactly. So since our podcast is geared towards attorneys, what are some tips you have for attorneys to help make the most out of mediation for their clients?

Sharon: You know, my biggest tip and and I’ve said this, from the beginning this, it’s not simply since we’ve been virtual, but but really, from the beginning of my mediation practice. I think that attorneys for the most part, there are, you know, definitely attorneys who are doing a great job at prepping their clients. But I think people are not preparing as much as they should. And they’re not thinking through options before they get to the mediation table. And, you know, one of the complaints that, that we hear from attorneys across the board, his mediation can take so long, and it’s true. I mean, you kind of get into a time warp in mediation, and it time flies, and all of a sudden, you look down and think how long have we been, how could we have been here this long? But I think that if people would do a better job of preparing their clients in advance on some of the options available to them for settlement, that you might have a better opportunity to move more quickly.

Holly: Now, we always try and have a proposal ready to go out of the gates if we’re the petitioner. Even if we’re not the petitioner, we kind of like to have our nuts and bolts of a starting point ready to go. And always making sure that inventories are updated. If there’s any discovery pieces are missing, that the other side at least knows about it in advance, so they can have it there that day. There’s nothing worse than showing up and waiting three hours for the first offer to come over.

Sharon: I agree. And that’s really hard as a mediator too because you know, you feel that pull to go to the other room and say, hey, I’m trying, but you also don’t want to make the other side look bad, you know. So there’s that balance of, I want to move efficiently, I want to get over to the other room as quickly as I can with a proposal. But if that prep work isn’t being done, it really does drag out the process. And you know, it doesn’t happen all the time. But sometimes you have an attorney explaining a concept to the client, in mediation, that you sort of get the sense they’ve never talked about it before. And I’m not saying they haven’t, we’ve all had that client where we’ve talked about something 15 times and on the 16th time, they’re still acting like they don’t understand. We’ve all been there. But I think in general, sometimes they’re talking about things for the first time, and then that slows the process as well.

Holly: What are what’s some of the most helpful information attorneys can give you as the mediator in advance to help speed the process along and make it go more smoothly?

Sharon: You know, I, I want information. I feel like my job as a mediator is not only to settle the case, but I want to make the attorneys look good. And I don’t get as much information as often as I would like. Certainly I don’t want to be bombarded with information. I don’t need every pleading. You know, I don’t need that motion for continuance that was filed six months ago. And granted, it doesn’t bring anything to the table for me. But it’s shocking how often I come into mediation where neither side has sent me any information. And I don’t know anything about the case. I don’t know if it’s a divorce. I don’t know if it’s a custody modification.

If it’s a custody matter and the kids are identified by initials I don’t know if they’re boys or girls or what their names are. And, you know, I think the clients get a sense of calm. If, if the mediators able to say, you know, I understand your child named x is 12 years old, and you know, and kind of show them that I know something about their case, and that I’m not just learning it on the fly. So I think that that’s the biggest thing media excuse me attorneys can do is, even if even if you’re running behind, send a quick paragraph and an email like it really does not have to be formal. And typically, I don’t read it until the night before the morning of because so frequently things either settle or get rescheduled. And I’m going to have to read it all again. But I always read what’s sent to me.

Holly: And I think it can be it can really set things off on a better tone when the mediator already knows the facts behind the case. And the client doesn’t have to get all into the emotional parts of telling their story, even though we certainly have clients that want to do that. And they want to be heard, they want to tell their story. I think to the extent we can limit that really helps us get cases settled, and get them settled quicker.

Sharon: I agree. And I typically tell the clients that when I have received background information, I reassure them that I’ve read it, that, you know, your attorney did a great job of educating me and I but I always tell them, I want you to be heard. So I say you know, we’re gonna hit the ground running, and I’m going to jump in with this proposal. But if you feel like there’s something important that you need to tell me, I want you to be heard. But I think if the attorneys can sort of give me the Cliff notes version versus the novel version, it does definitely move things faster.

Holly: So what are some of the, what tips do you have based on what you see the best attorneys doing in mediation?

Sharon: You know, I think that it’s just really important for the attorneys to be engaged, and not just defer to the mediator. And it doesn’t happen to me all the time. But sometimes I have attorneys who kind of check out a little bit like they sort of let me as the mediator drive the bus, which is fine. But, you know, I don’t want to be put in a position where I’m having to explain the law to the client. And you know, the attorney is sitting off to the side. So I think being actively engaged, really listening to what the client is saying, and, and looking for creative options. Because it takes it takes a team to get a case settled.

Holly: One of the most difficult things I think in mediating can be when your client doesn’t like what you have to say. So you know, the law is what it is. And if you tell your client, you’re never going to get x, then they think you’re not on their side. So sometimes they can be really helpful when I’ve told them all along, you’re never going to get x, this is what’s going to happen. When the mediator comes in then and reiterates, you’re never going to get x this is what’s going to happen, then that lends a lot of credibility to the attorney, and can kind of help get you to where we need to be a lot quicker.

Sharon: Yes, I agree. And, you know, I think sometimes just hearing it from somebody else. And, you know, maybe it being delivered in a slightly different way. But I think it’s true, you know, the mediator has to, I always tell people, I’m not your lawyer, but I’m another set of eyes, ears and occasional opinions in the room. And I do think sometimes even just being heard and mediation makes people feel better. So obviously, I’m not a judge, I can’t make a ruling. But if they feel like somebody else has heard the story, and they kind of agree that yeah, I shouldn’t go down this road, I’m not going to succeed, that helps pave the way.

Holly: One of the biggest obstacles I see to settlement at mediation is attorneys who do not properly set their clients expectations in advance. Do you have any tips for attorneys to help accomplish that?

Sharon: I think, you know, I think that there are reality testing techniques that need to be used both prior to and during mediation. I think sometimes the attorneys not through any fault of their own, but they’re just very confident about the success of their case and the strength of their case, and they don’t really give the client a downside. And so sometimes that can be very unmotivated to settle of why would I settle here if I’m definitely going to get x at court. And so definitely weighing the options, weighing them financial costs, the emotional cost. And because sometimes I think that that trial retainer is just first being discussed at mediation, then they feel sort of painted into a corner, right? They, they feel like, well, now I have to settle because I didn’t know it was gonna cost me an additional $10,000 or $5,000, whatever it is.

Holly: Do you see a lot of times where it appears, the attorney has never explained certain aspects of the law to their client? For example, spousal maintenance, you know, there are certain people who come into mediation, and they are hell bent on getting spousal maintenance. And it’s like, the attorney has never told them, you don’t qualify under the law, you will never ever get that in court. And this is a hill they’re going to die on. But they would never win. Do you see things like that a lot?

Sharon: I mean, it kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier if I do, but sometimes I don’t know if that’s really a conversation that they’ve had 10 times and the client just doesn’t want to believe it. We’ve all had that case, where, you know, Sally’s neighbor has agreed there, you know, gets $10,000 a month in spousal support. So she should too. And it’s like, well, we don’t know what Sally’s neighbor’s case was. We don’t know what the agreement was. We don’t know anything. So we have to go off the law. And, you know, I think sometimes it’s the watercooler neighbor, friend, family member discussion that colors people’s idea of what they should get. And that’s not necessarily that the attorney hasn’t explained it.

Holly: With COVID, we’ve seen a lot of mediations moving to Zoom. And so as a mediator, how do you feel Zoom mediations have been going as compared to more traditional in person mediations?

Sharon: Yeah, I think overall, everybody has done an amazing job of just switching gears and transitioning to doing virtual mediations, they’ve been very successful, I have a very high settlement rate with them. As we sort of transition back I’m to being able to mediate in person, I’m not getting that many requests for in person mediations people like it. And and I do think there’s a benefit of people being able to sit in the comfort of their own home, pet, their dog, pet, their cat, whatever. You know, wear they’re fuzzy slippers, whatever brings them comfort and calm. But I do think that certain cases need to be in person.

Holly: I agree. I love mediation by Zoom. I think it’s much less exhausting, much less stressful for pretty much everyone involved. There are some cases where there seems to be a volatile person involves where I think they’re just gonna turn it off and be gone. And that’s the biggest fear I have on Zoom mediations, in certain cases, yes, somebody can walk out of the room and mediation too in person. But I think you have a better opportunity to flag them down in the parking lot and get them to come back.

Sharon: I agree. I’m honestly I’m pleased and happy to report I haven’t had anybody just hang up on Zoom. But it has certainly crossed my mind. Because it’s such an easy, you know, it’s an instant gratification move. If you feel like I’m done, and you hit one button, and you’re out. But I and I agree in person. You know, there’s, there’s that lag of maybe I shouldn’t do this, maybe I should stay and keep talking?

Holly: Well, that’s really good to hear that if you’ve been zooming for 15-16 months, or however long it’s been that you haven’t even had one person who shut it off and abandon the mediation. So maybe it’s not as big of a risk as some people think it might be.

Sharon: Yeah, I mean, I definitely think there’s that person out there. And you know, as I said, it probably will happen to me. But I do think people have been very responsive to it, I just find that with a truly like high conflict case or a very, like you said volatile party, you really can’t lean into them a little bit. And on Zoom, you know, it’s a little harder to look them straight in the eye and say, you know, do you really feel like that’s a valid argument tell me the strength of that argument. Because they it just doesn’t carry the same weight.

Holly: And I think from the attorneys perspective to that time between the mediator being in your room when it’s just you and the client and being stuck in a conference room together is a lot different than how the Zoom room together. And the tendency for a lot of attorneys I think is to just put on their video, turn off their video, have their clients cell numbers, they can let them know whenever the mediators back and kind of work on other things. And that probably is a downside to Zoom where you’re not pushing a fine as much as you might otherwise be.

Sharon: I agree. I mean, I think it’s an advantage and a disadvantage, because it’s for the attorney, it’s a selling point to say, look, I don’t have to bill you for every second I’m sitting here with you, in this conference room, I can shut off my video and work on other stuff and take myself off your clock. But I do agree that when the mediator leaves the room, they shouldn’t just automatically check out and say, okay, we’ll be back when the mediator comes back, I think there needs to be a conversation of okay, here’s, here’s the strength of that offer that you just sent over. And here’s something we need to consider.

Holly: We kind of talked about the cases that you think are not appropriate for Zoom. Are there particular cases you think work especially well, with Zoom?

Sharon: I mean, obviously, cases where the people are not in the same cities. At one point, I had a case, on zoom, where one party was in a country in Africa, the other party was an on the west coast, we had a translator from yet another place, and then we had both the attorneys. And so being able to convene everybody on zoom without having to incur travel costs and things like that, as is incredibly fortunate for everyone involved. And even prior to the pandemic, there were cases that I was mediating where we might have one side in person and one side online, because of travel restrictions and things like that.

Holly: So with respect to property division, and inventories, do you find it most helpful for an attorney to have prepared some type of a chart in advance? What do you think works best for specific to property division in divorce mediation?

Sharon: I think, you know, having a spreadsheet is so helpful because having a 52 page inventory with backup documentation is fine. But ultimately, that doesn’t really get us moving ahead. I think having a spreadsheet if possible, having the attorneys agree on using one version of this spreadsheet, because sometimes I have attorney A has prepared their spreadsheet and it has, you know, a gazillion formulas in it that every time you move something it it readjusts at the bottom.

And then I have attorney B who has a completely different spreadsheet, doesn’t want to use attorney A’s. So I think if if either at the beginning of the mediation, the attorneys want to talk and say, okay, we agree that all the properties listed on this spreadsheet, we’re just gonna use this version and work off of it. That is a lot faster than having an attorney A bring their proposal and then attorney B plugs it into their spreadsheet and tells me why it doesn’t work or why it does. So just some of that kind of advanced work and prep is helpful.

Holly: One of the biggest issues I see in agreeing on spreadsheets is often that there’s a dispute over is something separate property or community property, or what’s the value of the house or the business or something like that, where yes, spreadsheet A spreadsheet B both show a 50-50 split, but spreadsheet A has significantly more property on it, where spreadsheet B removed three huge pieces and put them down on a separate property column. So I can see where I’m getting attorneys to agree on a spreadsheet might be more difficult than just the format.

Sharon: Sure. And I mean, obviously, in any kind of property division, you’re going to have to first agree whether the separate property is being confirmed as separate property or whether there’s a dispute, because until you resolve that, you’re not really working with true numbers. I think one area where people where attorneys can sometimes get hung up on values of real property is if it’s being sold. Because kind of who cares at that point? I mean, you can put anything in because it’s going to sell for whatever it sells for. So I always try to get to the, you know, sort of boil it down. Okay, is somebody keeping the house where we truly have to come up with a value? Or is it being sold, where we can use whatever number as a placeholder and just agree on how things are going to get allocated at the end?

Holly: How often do you find yourself bringing in or one of the attorneys bringing in some sort of outside expert to mediation to help with property division, business valuation, mortgage issues, things of that nature?

Sharon: Um, I don’t see it happen as often as I might like. It does happen. And it can be incredibly helpful, especially if people have unusual assets. You know, lots of different retirement vehicles where people are a little uncertain on what they’re going to be facing as those are divided and what their access to the funds are going going to be and taxes and things like that. So I do find that having a financial person, either kind of on standby on call is helpful, or certainly we’ve called mortgage people in the middle of mediation to talk through options for refinancing and buyouts and things of that nature. So it can be incredibly useful.

Holly: I agree, I think it’s something that needs to happen more and probably would help avoid a lot of the problems that you can see post mediation where, you know, parties agreed to split property in a certain way. But logistically, it can’t happen, or, you know, that person doesn’t qualify for the mortgage they thought they were going to qualify for or things of that nature. I think it’s also something attorneys can really do in advance to have their clients talking to the mortgage guy have their talk to the Qdro retirement specialist, who knows what’s going to happen with this particular type type of plan. And that can help you from getting bogged down in mediation, and it can also help you know what you should or shouldn’t agree to.

Sharon: I agree, I’m surprised how often people are really resolute about wanting to buy the other party out of the house. And they literally have not done any investigation into whether that’s feasible, not only based on their own credit, qualification, but also based on whether there’s enough equity in the property to even pull out what they need to get. And, you know, doing some of that legwork with the client ahead of time really does speed up the process, because otherwise, you’re just kind of have a question mark, and have to build backup plans around it.

Holly: I think before the real estate market got so hot, it was probably easier to deal with these house issues, because there wasn’t that much of a dispute over somebody buying the other out and, okay, we’re just gonna get good appraise during the refi, or whatever. And now people think but if we put it on the market, who knows what you get, we’re gonna get a bidding war, and where you get all this money, and you never know what you could get at this point.

Sharon: I agree. And, you know, nobody can say that’s not true right now, you know, when somebody says, I think if we put the house on the market, we would get 100 grand more right now than, than what we would have in the past. You know, none of us can say that’s not true, we all hear the news. And it does definitely make it more challenging. Because if somebody is very emotionally attached to the house, or just, you know, really wants to be able to keep it than it does make that buyout more challenging,

Holly: Of course you have the other piece of it now that you don’t normally have or okay, yes, you’re gonna sell the house and get all this extra money. But where are we going to go?

Sharon: Yeah, yeah. And, and, you know, I do think a lot of people, I think your question about experts and other professionals, kind of working in the background alongside the attorney can be so helpful, because you have some people who’ve never made a budget. And they think, oh, I can stay in this house, because we have so much equity, the mortgage is low. Okay, but what about the taxes? What about the insurance? What about the upkeep, everything that comes with it, they haven’t really taken that into consideration.

Holly: I think a lot of people also are trying to factor in child support when they’re making that budget. I always tell clients, don’t put the child support in your budget, because there are a lot of people out there who don’t pay it, and there’s not a guarantee, you’re going to get it and you’re or that you’re going to get it on time. He could lose his job, the money could go could go away completely, he could get it reduced. Just keep that as a bonus. Obviously, that’s not realistic for everyone. And sometimes they have to factor it in. But I think that’s I agree completely, that getting people thinking about that budget way before mediation can be very helpful in negotiating.

Sharon: Yeah, and I think to people, people get really interested in certain assets where, you know, one party thinks I want to keep all of my retirement, I won’t give up all the liquidity. I want to keep all my retirement, but are they really thinking that through? And, you know, I understand some people are emotionally kind of invested in certain assets that they have, but at the end of the day as the attorney, are you really educating them about what they’re potentially giving up.

Holly: One of the things you know, talking about somebody who’s really emotionally tied to their retirement or something like that, and they don’t necessarily negotiate like they should or haven’t thought it through made me think about the people who are emotionally invested on the kid issues. And they say like, I don’t care about the property. He can have it all she can have it all. I just want to make sure I get custody and I try help people right out of the gates, I tell them in the initial consultation, never negotiate property and kid issues together because property issues can never be fit never be changed. And most kid issues can be modified. So if you give up the house because you want custody, he can turn around next year and file to get to change it. But that house is gone forever.

Sharon: Right. And I, I agree, I mean, when attorneys kind of lump the two issues together, in sometimes I get it. Sometimes financially, you need to understand what your future looks like to know kind of what your abilities are with the children. But in most instances, I find it a bit distasteful to sort of negotiate children’s issues as if they’re a commodity, just like an asset. In the property side.

Holly: Do you think it works better to completely separate those during mediation? Where, okay, we’re going to talk with the kid issues first. And once we get those resolved, we’re going to move over to property? Or do you think it works better in a divorce, obviously, to address it all at the same time?

Sharon: I think, personally, I really think it needs to be done at the same time. Like I said, while I don’t like to sort of bargain property with children’s issues, I do think that sometimes people need to understand kind of their financial outlook. Where do I think I’m going to be able to live? You know, is this a situation where we can negotiate a 50-50? Because I think I’m going to be able to afford to buy something close, or I’m going to have to move further away where something housing is more affordable. So some I do think there is some need to look at those aspects together and evaluate the parenting plan. In connection with that.

Holly: Do you see a lot of people who are able to settle one issue, be it the kid issues, the property issues, and not the other where you do a partial meeting and settlement agreement? Or do you mostly it’s all or nothing?

Sharon: I mean, I want to say I do quite, I do partial mediated settlement agreements from time to time. Because a lot of times people have worked really hard, and they’ve gotten some great custom provisions and that they don’t want to lose, they know, if I go to court, this is done, you know, all of this is off the table. So I need to preserve what I can. Some attorneys are very resistant to doing partial settlements, because they feel like they’re giving up leverage that if if we settle all of these issues on this side, then we have no no bargaining chips left, nothing to push back on in court. And and sometimes I think that there’s truth in that, and you have to sort of evaluate your case and what you’re potentially taking off the judge’s plate. But other times you need to look at what is it? What’s here right now that my client loves and wants? And and can I preserve that? And keep it out of the judge’s hands?

Holly: Do you find a lot of cases where the parties come back to continue mediation another time? Maybe they’ve basically resolved the kid issues, but we’re we got a long way to go on property or vice versa. Say, and I’m just curious, if you find that when people come back, are they able they’re refreshed, they’re able to get it knocked out? Or is it you know, all the momentum is gone, and they’ve got their renewed vitriol for the other side, and now it’s all gonna fall apart.

Sharon: I mean, I’ve had it happen both ways. I, I’ve had it happen in cases where people really are not the timing is wrong, that they’ve come to mediation, and they haven’t really developed their property evaluation. Maybe they haven’t done discovery, they haven’t exchanged backup documentation. So they’re just sort of shooting in the dark, or we’re conducting discovery within mediation, which can be incredibly annoying to attorneys and parties. You know, as a mediator, sometimes I sort of, you know, grit my teeth when I have to go in until the other party like Well, before we can talk property, they need updated bank statements for these 25 accounts. And then, you know, you’ve, you kind of brace yourself waiting for the explosion, of we’ve given them you know, they didn’t ask for any of this.

And so I’ve certainly had cases where the parties have agreed, okay, we really today do not have enough information. And so we all need to go do our homework and come back to the table ready to go. And those are successful because people really know what’s expected of them and they go and get it done. And I think they’re motivated, like, I don’t want to have to do this again, and I just want to knock this out. I think the biggest risk that you have is if you do a lot of work, and you don’t Partially settle out what you’ve already agreed on, then certainly you run the risk that people backpedal and start second guessing themselves and say, well, I would have agreed to that a month ago, but I won’t agree to that now.

Holly: Or they’ve talked to their friend or their mom or somebody else and tell him what we’re talking about doing. And they say, don’t agree to that. That’s horrible.

Sharon: Yeah. So you, you always have to be concerned about shadow figures kind of tainting your mediation. Sometimes they’re in your they’re tainting the mediation as it’s happening in real time, but you have to kind of be aware of what your client is doing during mediation, and also determining, okay, if we, if we just take a step back from the mediation table and go get more information, or do more work, or whatever’s needed, what are our risks? What are the pros and cons, we’ll come back to the table.

Holly: So one of the questions I like to ask all the guests on the podcast is, if you could give one piece of advice to young Family Lawyers, what would it be?

Sharon: I think it’s, you know, constantly be learning. Constantly be listening. And just really not being afraid to ask for help. And ask, you know, whether it’s a mentor in your own firm, or whether it’s a mentor outside of your firm, really having somebody that you can call upon to say, okay, here’s an unusual issue, and how do I handle it? This is, you know, foreign territory to me. And I don’t know if I don’t know, if you’re practicing at the same time as Judge Caton was on the bench.

Holly: No.

Sharon: But Judge Betty Caton, she always said, if you don’t learn something new every day, then you’re not being a good attorney. And I think there’s some truth in that. I mean, nobody is ever going to know every single nuance of family law. And there’s always some issue that comes through the door that the attorney is not prepared for. And so not being afraid to ask questions.

Holly: I agree 100%. And even for more experienced attorneys, where I still have questions all the time where I don’t know when I’ll ask a colleague, neighbor, other people in my own firm or will post on Texas Family Lawyers and get great information really fast. And there’s a really good community of people out there who want to help and are willing to share information, you just have to be willing to seek it out.

Sharon: I agree. I mean, I think you kind of get what you give. I mean, there’s the social media aspect wasn’t really functioning when I first started practicing law, and that certainly become more robust in past years. And I see people really taking advantage of that. I think, I think you have to be a bit careful. You know, go and look for the answer yourself first, before you just throw things out on social media asking for help, because at some point, people probably start to think why is this person always ask for help. But I think there are a ton of attorneys out there who really like to help younger, newer attorneys succeed because it makes everybody look good.

Holly: We’re just about out of time. So where can our listeners go to learn more about you or schedule mediations with you?

Sharon: So, my website is And I do have an online calendar. So people are able to see my real time availability and actually reserve a date through my website.

Holly: And for the other lawyers out there who are looking for a family law mediator, I cannot recommend Sharon highly enough. Our firm uses her a lot and I have watched her work with every type of client, even the most difficult of clients. I’ve always been very impressed with how you could hear them, listen to them, make them feel heard and then get them out of their you know place have unrealistic expectations or vengeance or whatever that case may be with that particular client.

Sharon: Well, thank you I appreciate your support and you know, you and your associates always do a really good job of preparing both yourselves and your clients for mediation and I cannot emphasize that enough. It is so important.

Holly: Well, thank you so much for joining us today for our listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, please take a second to leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes.

Sharon: Thanks for having me.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

Subscribe to the Podcast

Follow Us


This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.