Parties to a Texas divorce may choose to pursue alternative dispute resolution to avoid litigation. They may resolve part or all of their disputes through mediation. A mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) is binging on both parties if it prominently states that it is not subject to revocation, is signed by both parties, and is signed by the party’s attorney, if present. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.602. In some cases, an MSA may include an arbitration provision, requiring the parties to arbitrate disputes arising from the MSA. A wife recently appealed the divorce decree, arguing it did not comply with the parties’ MSA and that the judgment based on the arbitrator’s award should be overturned.
Mediation and Arbitration
The husband and wife entered into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”), agreeing to use a specific realtor to sell their properties. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the husband obtained a new realter after the wife informed him the chosen realtor “declined” to sell their properties. That realtor found errors in the deed and recommended referred them to real estate attorneys.
The parties did not agree on which realtor to use or if they should have the documents corrected by an attorney. Arbitration had been scheduled, with the arbitrator being the same person who had served as the parties’ mediator. The wife obtained new counsel, who objected to the arbitrator due to concerns about impartiality. He also expressed an intention to move for a new trial or set aside the MSA. He alleged the husband’s attorney failed to disclose a working relationship with the mediator before the mediation occurred. However, there were emails showing the husband’s attorney had disclosed to the wife’s previous attorney that she previously had been an intern with the mediator and the wife’s attorney had no objection to the mediator. Additionally, she disclosed the same information to the wife’s second counsel by phone, and the mediator stated before the mediation started that the husband’s attorney had been an intern, and there were no objections.