One of the things we’re known for is making sure our clients feel prepared for what comes next. For example, when we schedule a mediation, we spend a lot of time preparing our clients one-on-one well before mediation so that they know what to expect. We also provide our clients with a detailed email letting them know more about the process. In this blog, we outline some of the advise we regularly give our clients as they prepare for mediation.
Introduction to Mediation
Mediation is a confidential settlement process where communication is facilitated by a third-party neutral person called a mediator. Mediations take place informally, outside of court. They may be held at the mediator’s office, at one of the attorney’s offices, virtually via Zoom or other program, or some combination of those. Post pandemic, most of our mediations are virtual, with the clients coming to our office and joining virtually from our office with our team there to comfort and assist. During mediation, the mediator puts each party and his or her attorney in separate rooms (either virtually or in-person), and the parties do not see or talk to each other directly. Mediation is successful in most of the cases where it has been used. If you have been the victim of physical abuse, you may not be a good candidate for mediation. Discuss this with us.
Mediated Settlement Agreements are Binding!
In the event you reach settlement at mediation, the document that you will sign is called a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). This document is a summary of the agreement, and it is NOT the final court order granting the divorce. The attorneys will use the MSA to draft a Final Decree of Divorce that outlines the agreement in legalese and further detail. The Final Decree of Divorce is what will later be signed as a court order and grant the divorce. In the meantime, while the attorneys hammer out the details of the decree, the MSA is a binding contract, and you will be able to move on and proceed with what is outlined in the MSA.
In most cases, MSA’s are FINAL and BINDING. They are irrevocable and cannot be changed. A colleague once put it this way: “It’s easier to get out of enlistment in the armed services than the MSA. You can shoot yourself in the foot and no longer be eligible to serve. You can shoot yourself in the head and the MSA survives as an obligation of your estate.” However, there are rare exceptions. If an MSA is illegal, does not meet the statutory requirements, or was procured by fraud, duress, coercion, or other dishonest means, then it’s possible that the MSA can be revoked, either completely or partially. But for the most part, expect that your MSA will be legally binding and enforceable.
Tips for mediation
Planning to mediate your divorce? Here are 10 quick tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your divorce mediation.
- Information gathering. Each side will request information from the other so that we can negotiate with adequate information. Be prepared to receive requests for detailed information and updates, sometimes last minute. Please respond promptly and thoroughly to these requests. The consequence of failure to provide such information may be delay, postponement or even cancellation of the mediation.
- Mediation can be arduous. Prepare yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Sometimes mediations run longer than expected and can trigger stress, anxiety, and other emotions. We will do our best to keep you comfortable and grounded.
- Remain patient. Threats to leave the mediation are counterproductive.
- Refrain from attacking the mediator or your own lawyer over the message they deliver to you. We are there to help you.
- Be creative and open-minded. Be willing to look at ways to satisfy your spouse’s needs. Allow your lawyer to “brainstorm” with you over possible solutions.
- Be attentive. Negotiation can be extremely difficult to track. You must be attentive to the proceedings. If you see your lawyer or the mediator has missed something, please raise the issue. If you fail to settle an issue at mediation, it’s possible you may waive the right to address it later.
- Be thorough. Read the final agreement carefully. This is difficult at the end of the day, but you should stay “in the game” to the end.
- There are long periods of “down time.” Bring reading material or work to do during these periods.
- The mediation could last well into the night. If you have possession of the children, make arrangements for their pickup and care.
- You may wake up the next day with buyer’s remorse. That’s normal. Your friends and family may tell you that you should have done this or that. You may go through the Mediated Settlement Agreement and discover injustices sprinkled throughout. When that happens, remember this: The case is finally settled. You are getting things a judge probably would not or could not give you. You are getting closure, and while it may not be perfect or exactly what you wanted, you have the gift of being able to move on.
We love helping women avoid divorce court and move on with their lives. Alexandra Geczi, PLLC is a law firm focusing on divorce for women in Dallas, Collin, and Denton counties. Our attorneys have over 15 years of experience exclusively handling divorce and family law cases. We apply a collaborative approach to our cases in which we try to work with your spouse’s attorney to avoid lengthy court battles opting instead to settle cases out of court through negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law. Contact us if you want to learn more or visit the mediation page on our website.