By: Alexandra Willen, Associate Attorney
During your case, you may hear your attorney refer to a mediated settlement agreement or “MSA,” and you may be wondering, “What is that?”
First, you need to understand what mediation is, and what it can mean for you and your case. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. Many Texas Courts require parties to attend mediation before they will have a final trial. This is because many cases are capable of settling in mediation.
When you attend mediation, you will be present in a room with your attorney, and the other party will be in a separate room with their attorney. The mediator will go back and forth between rooms and attempt to help settle the case. Mediators are often experienced family law attorneys or former Judges. They will be able to provide insight as to what may or may not happen if your case were to be heard by the Judge, and how a court may rule.
Once the mediator has assisted the parties in reaching an agreement, they will draft a mediated settlement agreement or “MSA.” This document will contain all of the parties agreements, and will serve as a binding agreement. That means that once you’ve signed the mediated settlement agreement, you can obtain a Judgement from the court that reflects the “MSA” terms.
Under the Texas Family Code, a mediated settlement agreement is binding at the time that the agreement is executed if (1) the agreement includes a prominently displayed statement, in boldfaced type or in capital letters, or underlined, that the agreement is not subject to revocation, (2) is signed by each party to the agreement, and (3) is signed by the party’s attorney, if any, who is present when the agreement is signed.
If an “MSA” is valid, then one person cannot revoke their consent after mediation is over. So essentially, no one can just “change their mind” after they have had a few days to think about the agreement. It is enforceable in the same manner as any written contract.
After mediation, your attorney, or opposing counsel, will draft an Order or Final Decree of Divorce that reflects the agreements in your “MSA.” This document will be a long form version of your mediated settlement agreement, which will eventually be signed by the Judge.
Mediation is an excellent resource to take advantage of when you are in the middle of litigation. It provides you the opportunity to have a say in how your case will be decided. It can also be more cost effective than a lengthy hearing or trial.