What is arbitration?
If the parties agree to arbitration in writing, the judge can refer the case to arbitration to help them come to an agreement about conservatorship and possession. Unlike with mediation, the judge cannot refer the case to arbitration on his/her own - the parties have to agree to this. Arbitration means a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, will rule over the custody proceeding instead of a judge. The parties can decide whether the arbitration is binding (legally enforceable) or not. In binding arbitration, once an agreement is finalized, it is made official unless the judge believes it is not in the best interest of the child.*
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(a),(b)
What is mediation?
Mediation is a process where parents can come to an agreement about conservatorship and possession of their child without going in front of a judge. A third party, called a mediator, meets with the parents to help them get to a mutual agreement. Parents can agree to mediation or a judge can order mediation.*
Once an agreement is reached, it will be binding on all parties if the agreement:
- has stated in boldfaced type, capital letters or underlined, that it is not “subject to revocation” (meaning it cannot be reversed or undone);
- is signed by the parties; and
- is signed by each party's attorney (if the party has an attorney and the attorney is present when the parties sign the agreement).*1
However, even if the parties agree on an order through mediation, the judge can refuse to accept the agreement if the judge believes that the agreement is not in the child's best interest and one of the following is true:
- one of the parties is/was victim of family violence and the judge believes that this negatively affected the victim-parent's ability to make decisions;
- the agreement would allow a registered sex offender (who committed a sex crime when s/he was age 17 or older) to
- live in the same household as the child; or
- have unsupervised access to the child; or
- the agreement would allow someone who has a history/pattern of past or present physical abuse or sexual abuse directed against any person to:
- live in the same household as the child; or
- have unsupervised access to the child.*2
If you are a victim of family violence, you can ask the judge not to refer the case to mediation. If the other party disagrees and wants mediation, the matter can be set down for a hearing to determine whether or not mediation is appropriate.*3 However, unless there is extreme violence that you can prove, it can be difficult to convince a judge not to send the case to mediation. After the hearing, if the judge refers the case to mediation anyway, measures may be taken to protect the party who did not want mediation. For example, the judge may order separate rooms and no face-to-face contact during mediation.*3 Note: Child custody mediators are required by law to receive four hours of family violence training.*4 Before mediation begins, you may want to ask the mediator if s/he has completed the required training and bring it to the judge's attention if the mediator has not completed this training.
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(c)
*1 Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(d)
*2 Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(e-1)
*3 Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(f)
*4 Tex. Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 154.052(b)
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan contains the rights and responsibilities of the legal parent/s of a child, including a schedule for possession and access to the child and child support information.* Parents can make a parenting plan and submit it to the court. If a judge finds that it is in the best interest of the child, s/he will order the use of that parenting plan. Otherwise, the judge can order a parenting plan s/he believes is appropriate.** A parenting plan is required once a final order about conservatorship and possession of and access to the child is determined.***
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.601(4)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.007
*** Tex. Fam. Code §153.603
What is a parenting coordinator?
A parenting coordinator is a third party that helps the parties come to an agreement about parenting issues.* A judge may assign someone to a case if the parents or persons acting in the capacity of parents cannot come to an agreement about parenting issues. You do not need to wait for the judge to assign a parenting coordinator; you can request one if you think it would help.
Generally, a judge will order a parenting coordinator only if the parties have repeatedly brought legal action against one another and have trouble communicating with one another.
If you do not want a parenting coordinator to get involved because there has been a history of family violence against you or your child, you can make a written objection to the judge. A hearing will be held if the other parent still wants to have a parenting coordinator involved. After the hearing, if the judge decides to appoint a parenting coordinator, the judge must take precautions to protect you from emotional and/or physical harm. For example, you might be placed in a separate room from the abuser when you meet with a parenting coordinator.**
There is a fee to meet with the parenting coordinator. The payment is shared by both parties. If the parties cannot pay the fee, the judge may be able to find a volunteer to act as a parenting coordinator.***
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.601(3)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.605
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.609
What is a parent education and family stabilization course?
A parent education and family stabilization course is designed to help parents and children dealing with divorce. In a proceeding to determine conservatorship or possession of or access to a child, the judge may order the parents to attend the course if s/he determines that it is in the best interest of the child.
The course has a fee. If the parties cannot afford the fee, there may be able to find courses that are free or offered on a sliding fee scale. A parent can complete the course by personal instruction, videotape instruction, or through electronic communication. Courses may also be available in Spanish. For information on course locations, contact the county clerk. See TX Courthouse Locations for contact information for the county clerk near you.
If a judge orders the parties to attend a course and they do not, they can be held in contempt of court.
Note: If you have been a victim of family violence, you can ask the judge to place you in a separate class from the other parent.*
* Tex. Fam. Code § 105.009