Resolving family legal matters in mediation can be an effective way to handle issues as peacefully and cooperatively as possible. Through mediation, parties create a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) that details the decisions, and the courts generally enter a judgment on the agreement.
While this may seem straightforward, there are some critical elements of an MSA that every person should understand before signing one.
Certain criteria must be in place for an MSA to be binding
These types of agreements have the potential to be quite powerful in terms of preserving the agreed-upon terms if they are binding. Per the Texas Family Code, MSAs are binding if the agreement prominently states that it is not subject to revocation. The agreement must also be signed by each person and each person’s attorney.
If these components are in place, the agreement is binding on the parties.
Courts take the agreement seriously
Because Texas courts want to encourage parties to reach peaceful resolutions through mediation, they generally honor the terms in an MSA.
However, there are exceptions. Courts may not enter a judgment on MSA if they find that a party to the agreement experienced impaired decision-making abilities due to family violence, and the resulting agreement does not reflect a child’s best interest.
Beyond these exceptional circumstances, the courts typically will not ignore or overrule the agreements.
You must be sure before you sign
An MSA is not an informal agreement; it cannot be altered on a whim if you change your mind. As such, you should not sign an MSA if you are uncertain about any terms.
People can feel tempted to sign an MSA just to “get it over with” or because they are frustrated with the mediation process. However, this approach can have long-lasting consequences because it is difficult to challenge an agreement. To void or change an MSA, a party would need to show the contract was illegal, non-binding or otherwise problematic.
Mediation itself can be a flexible, informal process. However, it is a mistake to assume the agreements reached in mediation have the same pliability. As such, parties must take these contracts seriously. Should any questions or concerns arise, legal guidance can be vital.