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Can You Challenge a Mediated Settlement Agreement in Texas?

Can You Challenge a Mediated Settlement Agreement in Texas?
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C.

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) which offers spouses in a divorce or parents in child custody cases an opportunity to hash out the terms of a settlement agreement outside of the courtroom and without the drama of a full-blown trial. Because it also provides some relief to overburdened courts facing bloated litigation dockets, it’s become a much more common practice over the years.

In Texas, some spouses or parents may opt for mediation on their own. However, it’s more often the case that parties who attend mediation do so as a requirement from Family Courts – especially if they want to litigate.

No matter what leads you there, the mediation process is subject to special rules and procedures –including rules that can have considerable or long-term ramifications on the parties involved. Generally, this means:

  • Information provided to mediators is confidential;
  • Anything discussed in mediation cannot be brought up in trial should mediation prove unsuccessful; and
  • Mediation settlements are binding and irrevocable.

Mediation can certainly be an effective means for negotiating a “just and right” settlement that works for both parties and their unique situations. Still, it can make for long hours at the negotiation table, and considerable confusion amid the many requests, concessions, and compromises being tossed about.

At times, it can also cause some parties to agree to arrangements they later regret or wish were different.

Meditation & “Buyer’s Remorse”

For one reason or another, the atmosphere created by a divorce and negotiations can cause some to feel a type of “buyer’s remorse” over arrangements to which they agreed at the mediation table.

Amid the chaos, a person may forget to mention a certain point they previously intended to address, or may simply feel pressure to compromise on this or that, only to later regret the decision when they've been removed from the setting. For example:

  • A parent with a child custody agreement may want more or less time for visitation than their mediated schedule calls for;
  • A spouse may have second thoughts about giving the other a particular asset; or
  • A recipient spouse may realize they wanted more alimony than what they got at the mediation table.

These situations serve as examples of why it’s important to prepare for mediation, work with experienced representation, and fully understand that signing any mediated settlement agreement (MSA) means you can’t simply change your mind about how you resolved one thing or another. As the Texas Family Code makes clear: it’s typically not possible to back out of a mediated settlement agreement, especially if:

  • It prominently notes the agreement is not revocable;
  • Is signed by both parties; and
  • Is signed by both party’s attorneys (if applicable) present at the time the agreement is signed.

While that’s pretty straightforward, there are at least some possible exceptions. These might include situations where:

  • Agreements were based on a material misrepresentation by one party, a failure to disclose material information, or fraudulent inducement;
  • Agreements resulted in fraud or contained illegal provisions;
  • Courts decline to enter judgments if findings show a party was a victim of family violence, and that the surrounding circumstances impaired their ability to make decisions;
  • Courts determine agreements are not in a child’s best interests;

Getting it Right the First Time

Mediated settlement agreements may be binding and irrevocable, but that’s as good a thing for you as it is for the other party – your former spouse or your child’s other parent can’t simply change terms and conditions previously agreed upon if they realize they don’t like it.

Ultimately, what may be “tough luck” for some is an important lesson to others: preparation is essential to family law mediation. If you want to get things right the first time or explore your options and how experienced lawyers can guide you step-by-step through the process, Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. is here to help. Contact us online or call (713) 909-7323 to speak with a lawyer.