In Minnesota, Early Neutral Evaluation (“ENE”) is described on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website as “a voluntary, confidential, high quality, affordable, prompt, evaluative alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process focused on generating durable settlements. In social ENE (SENE), custody and parenting time issues area addressed. In financial ENE (FENE), financial and marital estate issues are addressed.”
Each county does ENE differently. In Hennepin County, for example, Social ENE (sometimes called “Custody and Parenting ENE” or “CPENE” in other counties) is done through Hennepin County Family Court Services. The fees for ENE are based on your income or may be based on the hourly rate that you pay your attorney.
At ENE, each party will have an opportunity to tell their side of the story to the neutral evaluator(s). You will be expected to tell the neutral what you would like to see happen in your family. Often times, the evaluator is a trained mediator and will try to help the parties mediate a resolution to their dispute. Any issues that you and the other side agree about can be settled at this point.
If the parties are not able to come to an agreement, the evaluator will move into the evaluative portion of the ENE process. The evaluator will use their experience and expertise in the law to provide the parties with an evaluative opinion of how a Judge might decide their case. If the evaluator needs additional information before providing their evaluative opinion, a second meeting may be scheduled. The neutral may decide that it would be helpful to review medical records, or to talk to your counselor or to have your spouse undergo a chemical dependency evaluation, if gathering that information would assist the neutral in providing feedback to the parties.
These evaluative opinions are very helpful to the parties. In many cases, once the parties have heard how a neutral third party thinks a Judge would decide their case, they are able to reach an agreement. One (or both) of you may decide that it makes more sense to settle your case rather than fight in court after hearing the professional opinion.
It is imperative to be prepared for ENE. Our office, for example, meets with our clients in advance of the ENE for an ENE prep session. It is important to understand what factors the evaluator will use in assessing the strength of your case. It is important to know the best way to tell your side of the story and present the facts in the short amount of time for which your ENE is scheduled (a typical ENE session lasts 3 hours). We will guide you through your case so that you are able to effectively communicate what you want and what will be in the best interest of your children.
Stacy Wright is a Minnesota Divorce Attorney, and can represent you in your divorce case. Call (763) 244-1002 to schedule a consultation with Stacy.
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