Binding Settlement Agreements in Child Custody Cases

Binding Settlement Agreements in Child Custody Cases

Most family law cases are settled, including child custody cases. But it’s one thing to settle child custody cases and another thing to make binding settlement agreements. Texas law contains specific requirements for settlement agreements involving children.  The experienced child custody lawyers of Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., know how to make enforceable child custody settlement agreements.

The founding partners of Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., are Shannon Boudreaux and Kevin Hunter. Ms. Boudreaux was named to the Dean’s list at South Texas College of Law from which she graduated in 2003. She has received a perfect “10” rating from Avvo, an attorney rating service. She has also received the Avvo Clients’ Choice Award. Mr. Hunter also graduated from South Texas College of Law. As a student, he participated in moot court advocacy contests in Georgia and in Southern California. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Mr. Hunter served in the United States Air Force.

Types of Settlement Agreements

Binding settlement agreements require more than just a handshake under Texas law. They must be in writing and also have other requirements. Three types of these agreements are commonly used in Texas. Parties can settle some of their differences by attending an informal settlement conference. Attorneys sometimes use “Rule 11” agreements. Finally, there is the mediated settlement agreement.

Informal Settlement Agreements – An informal settlement agreement is the result of a conference between the parties with or without attorneys being present. The informal settlement agreement is binding if:

  • It states in boldfaced type or in capital letters or underlined print that it cannot be revoked;
  • Both parties sign it; and
  • Any attorneys present also sign the agreement.

However, there is a major limitation to informal settlement agreements: they are not binding settlement agreements on issues of custody. They can deal only with the parties’ divorce and the division of their property.

Of course, settlement of any part of a divorce case is desirable, but only the property side is subject to settlement under an informal settlement agreement. If the parties try to resolve custody issues under an informal settlement agreement, that agreement is not binding.

Rule 11 Agreements – Family law cases are civil cases and therefore are subject to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure provides a way for parties and attorneys to make binding settlement agreements. Under Rule 11, the agreement must meet the following requirements to be enforceable: the agreement must be in writing, signed, and either filed with the court or recited in open court so that the court reporter can make a record of the agreement.

Civil cases cover a lot of territory, so Rule 11 is applied to many areas of law. One of those areas of law is family law. But Rule 11 agreements have drawbacks. First, they are supposed to be limited to the facts of the case, not legal conclusions, such as the best interest of the child. Second, a Rule 11 agreement can be revoked before the court signs a judgment based upon it.

Rule 11 agreements can be regarded as binding settlement agreements only to the extent that the parties do not successfully contest them. Within their limitations, Rule 11 agreements, like informal settlement agreements, can help to settle part of a case but should be utilized taking into consideration the fact that they are revocable.

Mediated Settlement Agreements – Mediated settlement agreements are the best way to make binding settlement agreements regarding custody issues. With a narrow exception, mediated settlement agreements are binding, irrevocable and not subject to modification. Further, mediated settlement agreements result from mediation which is one of the best ways to settle family law disputes.

The signing requirements for mediated settlement agreements are the same as those for informal settlement agreements: The statutory no-revocation warning, the parties’ signatures and the signatures of any attorneys present. If a mediated settlement agreement meets these requirements, the party is entitled to judgment on the mediated settlement agreement notwithstanding Rule 11 or any other rule of law.

Most family law cases include settlement attempts. You should take care to retain attorneys who are experienced child custody attorneys to make sure you enter into binding settlement agreements. The Texas Child Custody Attorneys, are available to help you.

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