Texas: Prepare for Court-Ordered Custody Mediation

Most parties litigating child conservatorship and possession in Texas are required to attend mediation before heading to trial.

Like in voluntary mediation (where parents choose to mediate in hope of avoiding litigation), the mediator is a neutral party who helps the parents find a solution to their disagreements so they can file a settlement with the court.

Courts prefer parents make decisions together rather than let a judge or jury decide, and mediation is an effort to move parents in that direction. It allows parents to maintain their autonomy, while easing congestion in the court system.

Parents can ask a judge to waive the mediation requirement if there’s been family violence or if mediation is otherwise unlikely to work.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and possession schedules to help you prepare for mediation.

Make My Texas Plan Now

How it compares to voluntary mediation

Mediation is largely the same when it’s required by a court as when it’s selected by parents as an alternative to litigation.

In both cases, the mediator cannot disclose information about your negotiations to anyone, apart from sharing your final agreement with the court. He or she will never serve as a witness or be subpoenaed. Only information that must be reported to authorities is excepted from confidentiality: threats, revelations of abuse or neglect, plans to commit a crime, and similar admissions.

Voluntary mediation results in parenting agreements more often than court-ordered mediation. When the mediation is voluntary, parents are usually less quick to give up on negotiations because they're committed to resolving issues outside of court.

The process

In court-ordered mediation, the parties or their lawyers generally select a mediator together. If they’re unable to agree, or if neither party objects, the court can choose instead. It is best to use a mediator who is specifically trained in family law matters.

The mediator usually meets with each parent in a separate room, moving between the rooms to explain parenting plan options and find an arrangement both parents are happy with. Occasionally, the mediator will ask parents if they’d rather discuss options face-to-face.

If you have a lawyer, he or she will accompany you and advise you during mediation sessions.

Sessions last two hours to a full day. You’ll have as many as necessary to reach an agreement or to conclude that agreement is improbable; it could be one session or five. If parents do not agree on a parenting plan, the mediator notifies the court that mediation was attempted unsuccessfully. Then the family continues through the court process.

If parents do come to a full understanding, they write up their mutual decisions as a draft court order. If the order doesn’t raise any concerns, the judge signs, and you have officially settled.

Timing

The majority of courts require parents to mediate at least 30 days before a trial. If you’ve had a custody evaluation, you may want to wait until the evaluator’s report is ready, since this could have a major effect on negotiations.

Some courts require mediation earlier — sometimes before a hearing about temporary orders can take place. This may be your only round of court-ordered mediation, or you may need to mediate again before trial, depending on your county.

Costs

Mediator’s fees are usually around $100 an hour per party, but they can reach up to $450 an hour per party. If parents hire attorneys (optional, but recommended), each pays his or her own.

Preparing for mediation

If you walk into mediation ready, you're much more likely to walk out with an agreement.

Bring at least one parenting plan and one possession schedule to your sessions, so you can demonstrate concretely what you feel is best for your children. You may want to bring multiple options, in case the other parent is more open to one idea than another. Your attorney can help you create these documents, or Custody X Change can walk you through the process step by step.

You can also bring evidence you intend to use in court; it may help persuade the other parent to compromise.

Tips for mediating parents

Mediation can be as emotional and draining as a trial. Follow these tips to make it go smoothly:

  • Prepare thoroughly so you come knowing where you're willing to compromise.
  • Read up on how to negotiate with the other parent effectively.
  • Be responsible and respectful to everyone involved; arrive punctually and don’t interrupt.
  • Use your time wisely; make points succinctly and focus on crucial topics.
  • Keep your kids’ interests and needs at the forefront, rather than your own.
  • Don’t raise your voice or get angry.
  • Try not to speak negatively about the other parent.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Be honest.
  • Take notes so you remember what occurred.
  • Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to anything you will regret.
  • Be forthcoming with any questions you have.
Tools for mediation

If mediation goes well, you could walk out with a parenting plan that will last until your child becomes an adult. Are you ready?

Use all the tools at your disposal to get the best outcome for your child. Bring a parenting plan to present to the other parent. Bring multiple possession schedules to suggest, as well. You might also bring a calendar showing when you care for your child, a log of interactions with the child or other parent, a list of child-related expenses you pay and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to create and manage all these items in one place.

Custody X Change makes sure you’re prepared not only for mediation, but for every step of your conservatorship, possession and access case.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and possession schedules to help you prepare for mediation.

Make My Texas Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and possession schedules to help you prepare for mediation.

Make My Plan