Not All Family Law Issues Need to Go to Court

August 25, 2017 Posted in Our Blog

Texas courtrooms are busy places and essential when addressing criminal complaints and child protection issues. Still, an experienced Dallas family law attorney would advise clients that busy court dockets often delay cases while adding stress and expense to the experience. We often recommend a variety of forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to resolve issues just as effectively as cases that go to court.

Texas Courts Offer Five ADR Options

Texas law recognizes up to six alternatives to using the courts, as explained in Title 7 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code:

  • Mediation: This process enlists an impartial third party (the mediator) into the negotiations between two parties, accompanied by their attorneys. The mediator acts as a facilitator during discussions, but does not actually make decisions in the final outcome. The disputing parties must both agree to a solution to make it binding.
  • Arbitration: Under this option, both parties and their attorneys present their cases to an impartial third party (the arbitrator), who then makes a judgement in a manner similar to a courtroom judge. The arbitrator’s judgement may or may not be binding, based on prior agreement of the disputing parties.
  • Moderated Settlement Conference: This process resembles arbitration, except that it enlists a panel to arrive at a decision. These decisions are never binding.
  • Mini-trials: Mini-trials allow each party and his or her attorney to present their position before either selected party representatives or before an impartial third party. The process helps define issues and create a foundation for realistic settlement negotiations, but it is not binding unless the parties agree.
  • Summary jury trials: Under this option, the parties and their attorneys present their cases before a panel of six jurors in most cases. The panel issues an advisory opinion to help evaluate the case and develop realistic settlement negotiations. Their opinion is not binding on the disputing parties.

Not all options are necessarily appropriate for all family law cases, but they can often help families move forward with their legal disputes.

Courts Can Order ADR in Some Cases

Unless a particular dispute requires courtroom intervention, disputing parties are permitted to use ADR, as long as everyone agrees. It should be noted, however, that under a  process known as notification and objection, judges can order court cases into ADR, leaving the involved parties to issue objections to the process when they want issues to remain in court.

In many cases, ADR can be an effective way to pursue resolution to a number of family issues. However, it is vital to consult a knowledgeable family lawyer to decide if ADR is appropriate and help choose the most logical method. Contact us to gain the proper insight before making this decision.