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May 21, 2013 | Alvin Zimmerman and Gary Zimmerman

A Better Path to a Future Relationship

Ed Note: Perhaps one of the most difficult moments in any community is the dissolution of a marital relationship.  It hurts the people involved, the children involved and the community itself.  In a church, especially a small one a divorce can create divisions that never heal.  Sometimes, despite best efforts relationships fail.  In Texas, the peaceable resolution of these disputes is so important that the State legislature set as policy of the state the encouragement of peaceable resolution of disputes involving the parent-child relationship.  The following outlines some of the many options available in Texas.  While many might think lawyers encourage litigation many, including Alvin Zimmerman, encourage counseling and will not even take a divorce case until the parties have attempted reconciliation, often through their churches.


Until the last part of the twentieth century, parties in a divorce basically were limited to a two-prong approach – having their case pass through the judicial system with the negative aspect of trial: expense of money and human toil, or the parties would among themselves figure out a way, left to their own devices to settle their case. Today the Texas Legislature’s policy is to “encourage the peaceable resolution of disputes, with special consideration given to disputes involving the parent-child relationship.”

To attempt to put more certainty into the agreement-approach, the Legislature adopted provisions of the Family Code that permitted parties to enter into an Informal Settlement Agreement that it is not revocable if approved by the court.


As a result of this approach, many litigants were dissatisfied with what they considered a “win-lose result” and the courts were swamped.  This dissatisfaction exacerbated the harsh feelings and disruption to the restoration of a more mature, accommodating and better outcome for future relationships. A fresh examination has produced a more just approach to marriage dissolution through arbitration, mediation and collaborative divorce.




Currently, some parties choose to select an independent, experienced neutral party to conduct hearings that the judge would otherwise have conducted. Some parties believe that using arbitration in this manner can, in fact, be less expensive because it can provide a faster resolution in a more convenient timeframe. On the other hand, rarely does arbitration minimize the negative feelings that often result when going through this emotional process.

In parent-child matters, binding arbitration is a provided alternative dispute resolution process (Section 153.0071 Texas Family Code). Another advantage of arbitration is that the matters presented to the arbitrator can be maintained in confidence and avoid the per verbal "airing the parties dirty linen in court."



In 1997, the Legislature introduced mediation to resolve divorces, which also usually provides a faster pathway to resolution of the issues for divorce. The process begins either by the parties on their own choosing mediation or the court ordering the parties to mediation (although a party who does not want to go to mediation may file a motion with the court) selecting a qualified, neutral person to assist them in resolving their issues.


In some courts, there is a standing order that requires all divorces go to mediation before the court will conduct a trial. The court has found that most cases that go to mediation are settled in a more positive fashion than if the court had to rule. However, mediation is a voluntary process.


So unlike arbitration, the mediator is only a facilitator and does not make rulings as an arbitrator does.

Once, however, the parties reach a mediation settlement and that agreement comports with the Code, it is binding under most circumstances. The reason I say “most circumstances” is because there are many legal nuances and some exceptions that require competent legal advice. The presence of domestic violence is one such example.


Collaborative Law

Title 1-A was adopted by the Legislature as the Collaborative Family Law Act and provides that the divorcing couple may enter, with their attorneys, into a binding contractual relationship and commit to amicably resolve their divorce with a paramount concept being transparency in providing documents and information to the other party so that parties can reach an informed decision. One reason this has proven to be a very effective tool is that parties meet in regularly scheduled four-way meetings (attorneys and parties) with specific agendas to accomplish.


The foursome may retain experts to assist them in resolving issues such as financial planners, CPAs, and communication coaches (the latter to assist them in being able to discuss issues present or that could arise in the future). Whereas the conventional divorce is moved along by the court sometimes within a matter of months from the date it was filed, the Collaborative process has built into it a period for completion of up to two years to permit the parties to work through their issues in a constructive manner to resolution.


In divorce matters, church-based counseling, whether by a health care professional or clergy, also has proven invaluable to diffuse intemperate attitudes that often explode into a vitriolic atmosphere and make a civil divorce an uncivil one. As in most legal challenges, a competent lawyer can help find the best pathway to assist in the most favorable outcome. The real take away is that parties now have choices in how to proceed and which pathway best fits their individual situation and that promises to lay the ground work for a healthier relationship amon