The Texas Supreme Court recently issued an opinion on a case regarding enforcement of mediated settlements in child custody cases. In the case, a divorced mother argued for the enforcement of a mediated settlement that allows her to maintain periodic visitation with her 7-year-old daughter, despite her being married to a registered sex offender.
This unique case is a challenge for lawmakers and representatives because it calls into question several parts of the Texas Family Code. Specifically, this case questions how to define a child’s best interest and enforcement of mediated settlements.
The Texas Family Code specifically states that mediated settlements are binding when meeting the necessary criteria, highlighting the enforceability of decisions in the mediation process.
Negotiation and Legality of a Mediated Settlement
A mediated settlement is where the divorcing parties agree to mediation as a means of establishing the terms of their divorce and related issues such as child custody and visitation. This type of dispute resolution is binding and does not require the much more involved process of a divorce trial.
According to Texas Family Code, mediation is a valid method of alternate dispute resolution in regard to cases of child custody. A mediated settlement is considered binding if it meets three criteria:
- prominently states the agreement cannot be revoked;
- each party signs it;and
- the party’s attorney, if present, also signs the agreement.
Once these criteria are met, the mediated settlement becomes binding. The only reason judgment may be declined is if the court finds that a party to the agreement was subject to family violence that impaired him or her from making decisions, and the agreement is not in the child’s best interest.
In the case mentioned above, the court found that the girl’s father was not a victim of family violence when agreeing to the mediation agreement; therefore, the court had to enforce the agreement.
Mediated Settlements Are Enforceable — Make the Right Decisions the First Time
Mediation is a relatively quick, efficient method of divorce and family law dispute resolution that removes the risk of second-guessing decisions. When the parents mediate their dispute and sign a mediated settlement agreement, the terms of that agreement are enforceable and can’t be undone.
Often, parents make decisions in their child custody and support agreements that they later reconsider and attempt to change. Mediation removes this ability to flip-flop once the agreement is made official through the appropriate signatures and inclusion of a statement that the agreement cannot be revoked.
You don’t want to be stuck with an irrevocable mediated settlement you later regret, so it is critical that you have a professional mediator to assist you in drafting and approving the documents. A family law mediator at the Law Office of Julie Johnson can help.
Let us explain mediation and how it can benefit your divorce case. Contact us today at (214) 290-8001.