Mediation in a Harris County Family Law (Divorce, SAPCR etc.) Case
If this is your first introduction to mediation, here is a handy reference to explain some of the terms you might hear.
What is mediation?Mediation is a non-binding alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") procedure whereby the parties come together in good faith for typically a half-day, but sometimes a full day in an attempt to solve the issue(s) in a collaborative, supportive environment. Unlike litigation where you fight tooth and nail, the parties attempt to set aside the rancor and discord, and try to work things out.
Nuts and bolts of mediationThe mediator is what is called a "neutral" - they are there as a third party with no ties to either party and there is supposed to be zero favoritism. The mediator will walk in, get everyone coffee, and introduce himself/herself to you as they talk about their background and experience. You will typically start out in the morning in a joint session where a coin is flipped and one side gets to talk first. It is more or less an "opening statement" where they talk about their perspective on the matter, they identify what they want to solve at mediation, and they keep it pretty focused without delving into any dramatics. It should be 30 minutes or less. It should really be less than 15 minutes, some mediators (depending on who you get in Harris County) might limit to 10 minutes. It is supposed to be brief and non-argumentative, which explains the time limits. The other side follows with their opening statement, they agree/politely disagree about anything the other side stated, and they focus on what they need to work out before they leave for the day. The mediator then splits you up into separate chambers and goes back and forth. You need to authorize the mediator specifically to take any information from your chamber back to the other chamber, otherwise it is supposed to be confidential without that authorization. The mediator will be there to hear you talk, answer/ask relevant questions to further flesh out your point of view, offer some insights, and analyze your position if asked. When he has done as much as he can with you he will go back to the other party and bring a settlement offer (if authorized) or simply give them some time to vent. There is, more or less, an obligation to mediate in good faith - you shouldn't go there with such a bad attitude you are not going to listen to anything or even attempt to negotiate. If the mediator feels like progress has been made he will bring the parties back into the "opening statement" room and have you all try to figure out a deal. If a deal is figured out and you all agree to it, a mediated settlement agreement ("MSA") will be drawn up and will need to be signed by all parties. Once signed, that goes back to court and unless something unlawful was agreed to, generally that gets entered word for word and the case is over. Most mediations are going to be a half day, which means either your morning or afternoon depending on preference and the mediator's schedule. Sometimes a full day can be consented to, but in a lot of cases that is excessive. There should really be no arguing per se - more of a casual conversation in the opening statement that just boils down the issues dispassionately, and then your private conversations with the mediator about your perspective, and authorizing the mediator to "take something" back to the other room. If you are "arguing" in mediation you are doing it wrong - mediation unlike litigation allows you a flexibility to be creative to solve problems before you have some guy in a robe make your decisions for you. Therefore you should utilize the opportunity to be creative as much as possible as you attempt to hammer out a settlement. Hopefully that was helpful. Mediation can be a powerful tool to solve problems cheaply without the expense of additional lawyer time in litigation.