If you want to get a divorce in the state of Texas and do it without a lot of legal costs, you might think it will cost less just to hire a mediator. But there are three good reasons why you should not hire a mediator if you don’t already have a divorce lawyer.
I know you are thinking, “Of course a lawyer is going to tell me not to hire a mediator without a lawyer.” I get it, but you know what? I’m also a mediator, and I’ve tried to help people through the divorce process when they don’t have lawyers and it only becomes more expensive and more problematic. So here are three things you need to know before hiring a mediator.
- A Mediator Can’t Draft Legal Documents
- A Mediator Can’t Give Legal Advice
- You May Not Want a Mediated Settlement Agreement
A Mediator Can’t Draft Legal Documents
The first thing you need to know is that in Texas, a mediator can’t draft your legal documents. In order to get your divorce process started, you have to first draft and file a petition for divorce, and if you don’t have a mediator, you are going to have to do it yourself. That’s fine, there are great resources to help you do it at Texas Law Help. But sometimes, people think, “We’ll just hire one mediator and the mediator will be able to file everything.” They can’t.
To finalize your divorce, you are going to need a divorce decree. In Texas divorce decrees are lengthy. If you have kids and property, your divorce decree could be over 50 pages long. Other jurisdictions do it a little more simplistically, but that’s not the case here. Our decrees are long. So, say you go to a mediator and reach an agreement on issues but you’ve not started the divorce process. You can’t finish the divorce process and the mediator can’t help you with it.
A Mediator Can’t Give Legal Advice
If you have a mortgage on your house and one of you is keeping the house, what do you do with the mortgage? Maybe you have other debts, or a family business and you want to figure out how to work out a payment plan. Or offset one type of payment for another.
Perhaps you have kids, and you need to know what the possession schedule is going to be, and how child support is going to be calculated. Now, if neither of you care what the law is in the state of Texas, that’s fine. You can reach agreements without knowing what the law is. But oftentimes, knowing the law helps you make better agreements. And so, for that reason, I think it’s smart to make sure at least one of you is getting legal advice before you meet with the mediator.
A Mediated Settlement Agreement is Binding
The real value of a mediator is getting to a mediated settlement agreement. This legally binding document advises the court that issues have been resolved by the parties and the court can’t do anything differently. That is great if you have issues that you are not agreeing on and you want to know on that certain day, that all the issues are laid to rest.
But if you and your spouse are in agreement on issues, you don’t really need a binding mediated settlement agreement. And once more, are you sure you want to enter into something that is binding? I mean, it’s non-revocable, you can’t get out of it.
If a lawyer later advises you that the mediated agreement settlement that you signed wasn’t a good one? That’s problematic, because you are going to have a tough time renegotiating. It’s really smart to make sure you have legal advice at the front-end before you sign a mediated settlement agreement.
Look, I’m all for helping people resolve the issues in their divorce efficiently and effectively. There are some great resources out there for the ‘do-it-yourself’ consumer. There’s even a website created that includes the do-it-yourself forms. It’s available at texaslawhelp.org, and we’ll include a linked tip below in the show notes. If you have assets and/or you have kids, it’s likely best for you to first get legal advice.
Some firms, including mine, do provide limited scope representation. That means you can buy an hour of time or even more time if you need it. A lawyer can sit down with you and go over the legal documents, make sure you are filling everything out correctly and make sure the deal that is on the table is one that works best for you.
We find that it’s a lot more efficient for people to get the right information on the front-end and to really help them reach a resolution that is going to be lasting.