Mediation has been recognized in Texas and nationally for over twenty years. In the past few years, most cases that go to family and probate courts are requested by the judge to be mediated first. Mediation is an informal, confidential process held in a private setting in which a neutral third party, a mediator, helps people to better understand their individual interests and needs. An experienced, certified mediator can empower families to recognize and implement workable solutions to their problem(s).
Mediation is different than other alternative dispute resolution processes in the following ways. The basic idea behind mediation is that a dispute is resolved through an agreement among the parties, instead of a resolution mandated by a judge or negotiated by attorneys. First of all, the parties establish their own outcome, so the result fits their cultural expectations, needs, and family nuances. It provides an opportunity for a win-win outcome: There doesn’t need to be a winner and a loser. Negotiation involves a third party that physically separates the contending parties and shuttles ideas between them. Arbitration uses one or more third party neutrals that hear the facts and make a decision on how to resolve the conflict for the parties, like a judge might. Litigation is far more expensive and time consuming than mediation and involves a judge who makes the final decisions for the parties with the aid of attorneys representing the involved parties.
In mediation, whether it is voluntary or court ordered, the parties might, or might not, be represented by attorneys. Usually, parties attend mediation without an attorney, if they even have hired an attorney. Then, if an attorney attends the mediation, their role is of advisor, not as a direct participant to the conversation. Mediation is a process for the parties to talk to each other and to make decisions that will work for them. The mediation is confidential in either case and the mediator does not impose or make decisions for the parties or offer legal advice. Using mediation as a means of discovery is forbidden.
The mediation process has several advantages. A main advantage is that the parties retain control over the decision(s) they choose to agree to in writing. Also, results are generally win-win because outcomes fit the needs and interests of the opposing individuals or family. Because the outcomes also reflect the party's choices and priorities, in turn, there is a higher level of compliance with the written agreement than with court judgments.