Family Law Mediation - Harris County
Mediation - What to Expect
Mediation is a voluntary alternative dispute resolution process to resolving conflicts in court. The process allows the parties
control over their destiny and reduces the number of cases a judge must handle. The purpose of mediation is to facilitate
settlement between disputing individuals. The Family Courts require all parties to attend mediation prior to final trial,
and in some cases, prior to a hearing on temporary orders where child custody is contested.
Dissecting the Mediation Process - What is mediation?
Mediation is a process by which an impartial person (the mediator) acts as a facilitator to assist in the resolving of a dispute
between two or more parties. It is a non-adversarial approach. The role of the mediator is to facilitate communication between
the parties, assist the parties in focusing on the real issues in dispute, and to generate options for settlement. The goal of
this process is that the parties themselves arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute. In its simplest terms,
mediation is trying to get two people to do that which they least want to do– work out their problems by talking to each
How do we get to the mediation table?
Because the attorneys know from experience that a judge will order mediation on the request of either party, a mediation is
generally arranged for by agreement. In Harris County, Texas and surrounding counties, a significant number of mediators
are in public and private practice who are familiar with the family law courts and regularly mediate family law matters,
including divorce, property division, support, and custody. Usually, the lawyers will agree on one or more potential
mediators and make preliminary arrangements.
The mediation is usually held at the mediator’s office and can be one-half or a full day depending on the complexity
of the case. The mediation fee is paid directly to the mediator and can range from $300 - 500 per party per half day
session. All parties along with their respective attorneys are required to attend mediation.
As an alternative, the parties can mediate free of charge at the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) located in Downtown
Houston only if the parties’ combined annual income is less than $70,000 per year, there is not extensive property,
and no allegations of family violence or drug abuse have surfaced. The Dispute Resolution Office (DRO) is another agency
that provides similar services.
What happens at mediation?
The mediation process is very informal and fluid. Mediation may be conducted with the mediator, the parties, and their
attorneys all in the same room sitting across from each other at the same table. Or, the parties can be situated in separate
rooms never coming into contact with the other person thus allowing the mediator to meet privately with each party. The
private meeting is also termed a “caucus”. Determining the proper atmosphere obviously depends on the temperatures
of the parties.
After deciding on the setting, the basic model for mediation is as follows:
- 1. The Mediator’s Introduction - The mediator introduces himself, the parties, and their representatives, describes the
process, and sets out any ground rules. Goals and objectives are also discussed.
- 2. Opening Statements of the Parties / Information Gathering - The parties and/or attorneys are invited to make an
uninterrupted presentation of their views of the case. If the opening statements do not provide a clear picture of the
dispute, then the mediator will engage the parties in an information gathering process.
- 3. Ventilation - During either the opening statements or information gathering process, the disputing parties may need
to express their feelings. This is termed venting. However, the mediator may avoid this step in an attempt to focus on
the merits of the case rather than the personal emotions of the individuals in order to promote resolution.
- 4. Issue & Interest Identification / Option Generation - Once sufficient information about the case is exchanged,
the mediator will identify what issues are in dispute before moving the parties toward generating ideas, options or
alternatives which might resolve the case.
- 5. Bargaining and Negotiation - Once the potential options for settlement have been identified by the parties and
the mediator, the negotiation process begins. This is the “give and take” part of the mediation where the mediator
assists the parties in bargaining.
- 6. Agreement - If the negotiations result in an agreement, the mediator will draft a shorthand rendition of the agreement
that all parties and attorneys will sign. The agreement is filed with the court. One of the attorneys, usually the
Petitioner’s attorney, will draft the formal agreement for signature by the Presiding Judge– only then will the settlement
agreement become a binding court order. Any future disputes regarding the language to be contained in the longer, formal
version of the settlement agreement are resolved by the mediator via telephone conference between the attorneys.
Mediation is Binding & Confidential
MEDIATED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS ARE IRREVOCABLE. In other words, once an agreement is reached and signed by all parties, the court
will enter the agreement “as is” and you will not be allowed to revoke your consent to the terms of the agreement.
All settlement negotiations are confidential and will not be relayed to the court either through testimony or any
other indirect means. The court will only receive a copy of the settlement agreement if an agreement is reached.
The mediator will some times destroy written notes taken during mediation to ensure confidentiality. Lastly, the
mediator will never disclose information to the opposing side without prior permission from the informing party.
- What to Wear/What to Bring/Housekeeping
- Casual clothing is appropriate.
- Expect to sign an Agreement to Mediate wherein you will agree to mediate in good faith and make every effort to consider an amicable resolution.
- Family members, not a party to the lawsuit are not allowed at mediation.
- Your children should not attend mediation.
- If lunch will be served, then please advise your attorney of any dietary needs in advance.
- Although mediation may be scheduled for a half day, make arrangements to be available the entire day because negotiations can carry on for hours. Be sure to arrange for your children to be picked up from school.
- You are not usually required to present specific documents at mediation. However, certain documents can be helpful. For example, your most recent pay stub will aid in calculating child support or an inventory of your personal belongings will help in resolving property disputes.
- Your attorney will identify the significant documents and request copies prior to the scheduled mediation.
What happens if I do not attend mediation?
Failing to attend a scheduled mediation can result in monetary sanctions against you in favor of the party that did attend
mediation. Further, your trial could be delayed or your case could be entirely dismissed forcing you to begin again at
step one in the process. Remember that mediation is required and failure to attend can lead to detrimental
Visit this section often for more information about the Harris County Courts and Texas Family Law. Click
the following link if you need a Divorce Attorney in Houston.