Mediation Defined

Mediation is the process where parties who would otherwise battle out a dispute in open court choose instead to enter into discussions and attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement through a neutral third party called a mediator. Mediations can be entered into voluntarily where parties choose a mediator to help them resolve their dispute or a court can order the parties to attend mediation. If a mediator is appointed by a judge, then the judge may likely also appoint a specific mediator to help the parties reach a compromise. Under Texas law mediation is defined as “a forum in which an impartial person, the mediator, facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, settlement, or understanding among them.” To make sure mediators remain neutral, the law specifically prohibits mediators from imposing their own judgment on the issues before the parties. This separates mediators from arbitrators. The difference between mediators and arbitrators is that arbitrators can  impose a type of judgement on the parties called an award.

How Mediations Work

Mediations are typically done at a mediator’s office, but mediators can travel to meet the parties, or operate out of a mediation center. Some mediators can even appear virtually and perform online mediations, but that method is not yet accepted as a serious solution. In Houston, Harris County, Texas, many mediators have their own offices or travel, but some mediators nest in mediation centers. Mediation centers are cropping up in major metro areas to meet the growing need of litigants looking for mediators. Examples of mediation centers in the Houston area include the Heights Mediation Center, the Greenway Mediation Center, and the Upper Kirby Mediation Center.

Mediations typically last from at least a “half-day” (commonly 4 hours) to multiple days. Some complex civil mediations involving multiple parties, large business entities, and million dollar settlement discussions can go as long as the parties keep coming back to the negotiation table. Family law mediations typically last one-half or 1 whole day, although some family mediations last longer.

Mediation Fees and Costs

Mediations can cost from nothing to thousands of dollars and the fees mediators charge per session can vary widely. Since there are no established rules on what mediators must charge, fees are typically established similar to the ways attorneys fees are set, that is setting the fee according to what is “customary” in the local community. In the Houston/Woodlands/Galveston metro area I have discovered that attorney family mediator fees range between $300 to $500 per party for 4-hour half-day sessions. My own mediator price sits in between this range. When it comes to fees paid to court-appointed mediators, the law simply states  “the court may set a reasonable fee for the services of an impartial third party” (Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 154.054). To cover their time mediators will typically charge a per-hour fee for any additional hour(s) going over the agreed session time. In the Houston area additional per hour rates can range from $150 to $300 per additional hour.  Mediators typically charge each party the same price, including 3rd parties who jump into a case such as an Intervenor. Mediators can “make a deal” over fees with parties  such as when one party lacks funds, but mediators must ensure any creative fee structure does not impact their neutrality and objectivity in a matter before them. (money like power tends to corrupt). Texas courts are of course authorized to give subsidized mediation rates to indigent parties who cannot afford their mediator when mediation is required-see for example the 306th District Court of Galveston County, Texas.

Civil vs. Family

Mediations are becoming increasingly popular in many jurisdictions across the United States in both civil and family types of cases. Civil cases such as landlord-tenant, wrongful termination, and personal injury cases are often ripe to be negotiated by the parties through mediation instead of being litigated in court. Family cases such as divorces with property and custody disputes are perfect for mediation because the spouses or parents know the subject matter (belongings and kids) most intimately and can benefit greatly by talking out their disputes with a trained neutral mediator. In Texas, more and more family courts are requiring parents or spouses to negotiate their contested cases before going to trial. Perhaps this is because of the realization that mediation works and keeps litigants from conjesting court dockets. Statistics show that at least 75% of Texas family law cases that go to mediation settle.

At Olowska & Pierre, Inc., we perform both civil and family mediations, especially those involving disputes over children of relationships that are going through divorce or separation.