If the parties in a Texas custody case reach a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”), the court must enter judgment on the MSA. The MSA is binding if it meets the three requirements set out in Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(d). First, it must prominently state that it is not subject to revocation. It must also be signed by the parties. Finally, it must also be signed by any party’s attorney who is present at execution. The court may, however, decline to enter judgment on an MSA if it finds that a party was the victim of family violence which impaired their ability to make decisions and that the agreement is not in the best interest of the child. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(e-1). Unless this exception applies, the trial court generally does not have the discretion to deviate from the MSA and a party is entitled to judgment on the MSA. A court’s order may include terms that are necessary to implement the MSA, but it may not substantially alter the MSA. A father recently challenged a divorce decree that did not compart with the parties’ MSA with regards to where exchanges were to occur.
Mediated Settlement Agreement
The parents had two children together during their marriage. They separated in 2020 and signed an MSA in October 2021. Pursuant to the MSA, the parents would be joint managing conservators and the mother would have the right to determine the children’s primary residence. The MSA further gave the father a standard possession order which would be an expanded standard possession order if he lived within 50 miles of the children. It also provided that the exchange location would be at a particular McDonald’s in Huntsville with a pickup time of 8 p.m. and a drop-off time of 5 p.m. as long as the father and children lived in the current locations, with provisions for changing the location if the parents lived in the same county.
At the hearing, the mother’ attorney claimed that the MSA was intended to state that the parties would only meet in Huntsville once a month instead of for all the exchanges. The father’s attorney argued, however, that the provision stated what the father wanted with regard to exchanges.