What You Need To Know About Child Custody Mediation in Texas
Texas requires parents to attend a mediation session before a judge issues a conservatorship agreement. Here’s how child custody mediation works in Texas.
Texas orders parents to attend mediation to help resolve any disputes. Mediation allows parents to negotiate a settlement agreement before going to trial.
What is Child Custody in Texas?
Texas refers to child custody as a “conservatorship.” There are two components to a conservatorship: managing conservatorship and possessory conservatorship.
Managing conservatorship allows a parent(s) to make important legal decisions about a child’s care. Major decisions can include medical, religious, educational, or legal decisions for a child. Texas courts issue joint managing conservatorship unless a judge believes it is not in the child’s best interests.
Possessory conservatorship refers to a parent’s visitation rights with their child. Possessory conservatorship also outlines where the child will reside. Texas courts allow parents to decide where the child will live unless a judge believes it is not in the child’s best interest.
Judges will issue a “standard possession order,” which outlines when each parent will spend time with the child if parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule. Standard possession orders do not apply to children under three, meaning parents need to draft a particular order.
Judges can also modify or impose restrictions on possession orders to protect a child or parent’s safety and well-being. One way judges impose restrictions is by issuing a supervised possession order. These orders only allow parents to visit a child if a third party is present.
Related: Texas Child Support FAQs
Filing for Child Custody in Texas
There are many steps involved when filing for child custody in Texas.
1. Filing a child custody petition
Parents in Texas can initiate a child custody suit by filing for divorce proceedings or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPRC). Parents will complete the paperwork and file it with their local county clerk. The filer will then pay filing fees, which may vary by county.
Texas requires the petitioner to serve the petition of divorce or SAPCR to the respondent or the other parent. The respondent must then file a response within the indicated time, or a judge will issue a default judgment.
During the filing stage, parents can also file a paternity petition and a temporary restraining order (TRO). Parents should file a paternity petition before a petition regarding conservatorship if there are questions about the child’s paternity. TRO petitions vary depending on one respondent or two or more respondents. The petitions are valid for 14-28 days or until a judge holds a hearing.
2. Attend a mediation session
All counties in Texas require parents to attend a mediation session before attending hearings or even going to trial. Texas requires mediation to encourage parents to resolve all disputes before court proceedings. Judges can waive the mediation requirement if the case involves domestic violence or is unlikely to work.
Parents work on parenting plans in mediation. A parenting plan is an agreement on all aspects of the conservatorship. Parents who agree on a parenting plan can skip court hearings and reach a settlement agreement.
3. Go to court hearings and trial
Parents have six months to a year from the date they file the petition to reach an agreement on their own. If they cannot reach an agreement, the case might go to trial. Depending on the case, a judge or jury may make a verdict and issue a final order.
Final orders serve as the legal agreement all parties abide by until the child turns 18 or emancipates. Parents can file an appeal to a higher court if they believe the court has made an error.
Child Custody Mediation
Texas courts require mediation, although parents can choose to attend mediation voluntarily. Parents should choose mediators with a background in family law and child custody agreements.
In court-ordered mediation, judges allow both parties and their attorneys to select a mediator together. If the parties cannot agree on a mediator, a judge will appoint one.
During the mediation session, mediators will simultaneously meet with each parent in a separate room. The mediator will move between rooms to help explain and finalize parenting plan options. Mediators will only bring parents together into the same room if both parties agree.
Mediators allow attorneys to be present during mediation sessions and participate in the process. Mediation sessions can range from two hours to a day and can take however many days are needed to reach an agreement.
If, after several sessions, parents cannot agree, a mediator will notify the judge that mediation was unsuccessful. The judge will then remand the case back to court for hearings.
If mediation is successful, parents can draft a court order and have a judge approve it. Judges will evaluate the order to ensure it is fair to both parties and maintains the child’s best interests. Once a judge signs the order, the court finalizes the settlement.
Depending on the mediator, the mediator’s fees range from around $100 to $450 an hour per party. If parents hire attorneys, they must also pay attorney fees for the attorney to attend the session.