On October 25, 2019, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a Seventh Court of Appeals ruling and upheld a mediated settlement agreement made between a husband and wife before they filed for divorce.
The parties attended mediation prior to filing for divorce, and they reached a final settlement on all issues, including terms for property division, child custody and child support. This agreement was made without attorneys and before filing for divorce, in an effort to resolve the divorce quickly and affordably.
Once the agreement was signed, both parties hired attorneys to officially file for divorce, and the husband successfully argued to the trial court in Travis County that the mediated settlement agreement was binding on both parties. The trial court signed the Final Decree of Divorce, incorporating the terms of the mediated settlement agreement.
After the divorce was granted and the Final Decree was entered, the wife appealed, arguing that the mediated settlement agreement was not binding because it was signed before either party filed for divorce. An unexpected procedural turn landed the case in the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo, despite it being an Austin case. The Seventh Court of Appeals agreed with the wife and reversed.
The husband, represented by Sam Colletti of Noelke Maples St. Leger Bryant, LLP, appealed that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. Colletti successfully argued that people who want to go to mediation to try to reach a deal before hiring an attorney and filing for divorce should be allowed to do so.
“This is a huge win for my client. After over 4 years of being in limbo in the appeals process, and suffering an unexpected loss in the Seventh Court of Appeals, my client and I are thrilled that the Supreme Court got it right, with the correct and simple result that ‘a deal is a deal,’” Colletti said
The Supreme Court ruled that since the relevant statute does not require a divorce to be filed prior to mediation–and the mediated settlement agreement otherwise meets all the express statutory requirements–the parties’ agreement is valid and enforceable.
This ruling applies to anyone in Texas who wants a divorce and would like to try to settle their divorce in mediation before hiring an attorney or filing the divorce lawsuit.
Sam Colletti is an award-winning, Board Certified family lawyer with 15 years’ experience. Sam’s practice focuses on divorces and child custody matters for professionals and business owners and their spouses.
Noelke Maples St. Leger Bryant, LLP is a law firm exclusively focused on divorce and child custody cases in and around Austin, Texas. The attorneys are divorce trial lawyers first and foremost, but they are also well-versed in collaborative law, mediation, pre-marital and post-marital agreements, and appeals. The firm builds on the strongest ethical foundation: encouraging healthy family relationships, staying focused on the long-term outcome, and treating our legal system and our opponents with respect.
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