What happens when I go to Court for my custody case in Minnesota?

Remember that every judge, referee, or magistrate is different. Although all judicial officers must apply Minnesota statutes and precedential case law, the law recognizes that the best person to make judgments about a witness’s credibility is the judge hearing the case.

This judicial discretion allows the judge in your case to apply the law to your specific set of circumstances and then make a decision that is consistent with the law.

For instance, in custody matters, Minnesota statutes address the 13 Best Interest Factors.

In order to make an informed decision, the judge in your case might order that you participate in a custody evaluation. The judge also may order that a Guardian ad Litem be appointed. Additionally, you and the opposing party might agree to participate in the ENE process.

The Early Neutral Evaluator, custody evaluator, Guardian ad Litem, and ultimately the judge must consider the 13 Best Interest Factors when they have to make a recommendation or decision about the custodial arrangement and parenting time that is in YOUR children’s best interest.

Stacy Wright is a Minnesota Family Law Attorney, and can represent you in your family law matter.  Call (763) 244-1002 to schedule a consultation with Stacy.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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What is ENE (Early Neutral Evaluation) in Minnesota?

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.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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What happens at ICMC (Initial Case Management Conference) in Minnesota?

Most courts in Minnesota are following a model called Early Case Management.  The motivating force behind the model is the Court’s belief that families are much better off, financially and emotionally, if they are able to resolve matters related to their children and their finances early in their case, by finding a way to move on before spending thousands of dollars on attorneys fees and contested court hearings. You can find more information about the Early Case Management process here.

 

Initial Case Management Conference – also known as ICMC – is the first step in the Early Case Management process. ICMC is your first court date in your divorce or custody case if you are in a county that has ICMC.

ICMC is not like a typical court date that you might be imagining. The parties (you and the other party) will exchange ICMC Data Sheets and the Judge will also review those data sheets. The purpose of the data sheet is to provide a “snapshot” of your case to the judge.  You will have to provide information about your address, your employment, the ages of your children, whether anyone in your family receives public assistance, and a general picture of your assets and debts.  The ICMC Data Sheets do not, however, become a part of your official court file.  They are intended to allow your judge enough information to guide you to an appropriate program to settle your case.

The Judge will typically discuss how family court issues are resolved through the court system and through the Early Case Management system. The Judge may ask if there are any agreements between the parties.   If there are issues that have been settled, the judge can make those agreements part of your court file.

The Judge will also want to know what issues are still unresolved in your case and how you and your spouse plan to resolve those issues.

One excellent method of resolving issues in a divorce is Early Neutral Evaluation (“ENE”). If you and your spouse have not agreed upon all issues to resolve your divorce, the Judge will likely suggest you participate in ENE. The ENE process will be discussed in an upcoming blog post.

Stacy Wright is a Minnesota Divorce Attorney, and can represent you in your divorce or custody case.   Call (763) 244-1002 to schedule a consultation with Stacy.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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Why choose mediation?

Mediation is often encouraged because the agreement is made by the parties.  When people participate in and make their own agreement (as opposed to being ordered by the Court), they are more likely to feel that the agreement is fair and they are more likely to follow the agreement.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule mediation today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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So, you have selected your mediator, what happens next?

Your mediator should provide you with information about their fees and whether or not a sliding-fee scale is available for low income individuals.  Additionally, you should know whether or not your mediator can accommodate your individual needs like scheduling, telephone conferencing and accessibility.

After the mediator is chosen, the parties and mediator set up a time to meet.  Sometimes, the mediator and the attorneys (if there are any on the case) will briefly discuss the case prior to the mediation, so the mediator knows what the issues are.  The mediator will confirm whether or not the attorneys will attend the mediation or be available by telephone.

The key to a successful mediation is to select the professional who is experienced with your particular type of issue and then to prepare for the session ahead of time.  Your mediator might require you to provide a copy of your court order.  Your mediator might want you to fill out a form that describes the nature of the dispute and your goals for mediation.  Your mediator might ask you to fill out budgets or to bring financial documents to exchange with the other party.

The mediation itself is confidential from the court proceeding, meaning, what happens in mediation stays in mediation.  The mediator cannot testify in court unless the parties agree, or the mediator is required by law.

The mediator will not offer legal advice during the mediation – even if you mediator is also an attorney – in the role of a neutral, the mediator has no duty or obligation to provide legal advice or information.  The mediator will help to facilitate the discussion between the parties, and if agreements are made, will reduce those to writing.   It is important that you understand the agreements that you make and that you are willing to follow those agreements.  It is also important that you consult with an attorney to determine whether or not the agreements reached during should be drafted into a legally binding stipulation and entered with the court.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule mediation today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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Can mediation save me money?

For years, I have heard statements touting the benefits of mediation.  You may have heard:

“Mediation saves you money.”

“Mediation is less expensive than attorneys.”

“Mediation is better for your kids.”

“If you mediate, you don’t need to have an attorney.”

Each of these statements can be absolutely true.  Each of these statements can also be absolutely false.

The thing that will ALWAYS save you money is to develop a way to work with your children’s other parent (or grandparent, or relative, etc.) so that you can talk through your problems and work together to resolve the problem.

If that is not possible, then it is ALWAYS true that lengthy court proceedings, trials, evidentiary hearings, motions, exhibits and witness lists will take their toll, emotionally and financially, on everyone involved, including your children.

Mediation is cost-effective because sometimes people just need to sit down in the same room with a professional and start working through the problems.  The mediator’s job is to direct the discussion so that each party hears the other side’s concerns in a respectful manner so that everyone can work toward a solution.

Mediation can be expensive if you are paying your share of the mediator’s fees as well as paying your attorney to attend.  The decision to have your attorney present is one that you must make.  It might be that your attorney does not have to attend the session, but can be available by phone if you need to discuss a particular issue.

Mediation can be expensive if either side is not honest or does not make a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute.  Mediation should be terminated by the mediator if it becomes apparent that one or both parties are not committed to the mediation process and resolving their differences.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule mediation today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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How do I find a mediator?

Mediation may be agreed upon by the parties or required by the court.  Either way, the process usually starts by generating a list of qualified professionals.  The parties might agree upon one name on the list or the list is narrowed by each party taking turns and striking one name off the list until only one name remains, and that is the neutral that the parties select.

You should always start by asking your attorney for referrals to mediators with whom they are familiar.  If you do not have an attorney, you can ask your friends, co-workers or family members if they have had good experiences with a particular mediator.  Of course, you can look online or in the phone book, but that only lets you know how successful the mediator is at developing a website or a yellow pages ad.

The Minnesota Supreme Court maintains a roster of Qualified Neutrals.  To be a qualified neutral, a mediator must go through specific training.  Qualifications for the training are found under Rule 114.13 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice for the District Courts.  In Minnesota to be a family law mediator, you must go through additional training and courses, focusing on unique issues in family law.

The Minnesota Supreme Court maintains a roster of all Qualified Neutrals in the state.  You can access the roster HERE.  You can see from the roster that family law mediators are separate from general civil mediators and arbitrators.  The roster provides the contact information as well as the areas of law that the mediator would like to handle.

Your mediator should provide you with information about their education and training and work experience to allow you to make an informed decision.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule mediation today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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Why do I have to mediate?

Our court system is not equipped to handle all disputes in a contested matter.  Plain and simple, judges are too busy and have too many cases to take the time to have a trial or evidentiary hearing in each case to determine what the proper outcome should be.  In many cases, the actual “legal” answer might not be what either party wants.  Judges are required to follow the law.  Mediation allows people to decide what is important to them and then allows the parties to a dispute to create a workable solution. Remember, your mediated agreement must be approved by a judge and ordered by the court in order to be enforceable.  It is important to make sure that your agreement is in your children’s best interest and not contrary to public policy.

Attorneys have always known that judges expect cases to be settled.  With the increasing number of people representing themselves, especially in family court cases, the court has been consistent in holding that pro se litigants are expected to follow the same rules as attorneys.  Everyone is expected to attempt to settle their case without having to go to court. People who represent themselves must be held to the same standard as attorneys.

The Minnesota General Rules of Practice require, in Rule 303.03(c), that the moving party (the person bringing the motion) certify to the court that they have attempted to settle their case.  Court rules say that the judge should not hear any motion until the moving party certifies their settlement efforts.  In other words, the judge has the absolute right to refuse to hear a case until the parties attempt some form of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). Mediation is a form of ADR.  Additionally, the court has the authority to require a party to pay the legal fees of their opponent if court rules have not been followed.  You do not want to show up in court and have the judge find that you have not tried to settle your case. You might find that you are ordered to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars of your opponent’s legal fees simply because you did not attempt to settle your case outside of court.

Additionally, you may find that your divorce decree has language that requires that you go to mediation if you have any disputes regarding custody or parenting time of your children or any other dispute that involves co-parenting and parental cooperation.  While mediation is used in many areas of the law, it is especially important in family law because of the need to keep familial relationships functioning for the benefit of healthy children.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule mediation today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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What is Mediation?

Simply put, mediation is an opportunity to stay out of court and to resolve your legal issue with the help of an outsider who is not emotionally attached to your dispute.

More formally, mediation is a type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that involves a neutral third party who helps parties to a dispute by facilitating discussions that might allow the parties to reach an agreement.   Mediation is a cooperative problem-solving process in which a neutral professional helps people in conflict clearly define the issues in dispute and to reach agreements that are in the best interests of their family.

The mediator is NOT a fact finder; the mediator does not make decisions or tell the parties what they must do.  Instead, the mediator’s job is to help identify issues and explore options that might work for the situation.  The mediator is a neutral, which means that the mediator does not advocate or represent either of the parties.  Your mediator may or may not be a licensed attorney.  You might intentionally choose a mediator who does NOT have a legal background.  You might choose someone with a background in psychology or child development if your disputes are related to how your children are adjusting.  You might select a mediator with a financial background if your issues relate to finances or division of property.

Many families find that working with a mediator lessens the conflict between parties allowing them to work together to find a solution that keeps them out of court and allows them to move forward.

Stacy Wright is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral for Family Law, and can assist in your Minnesota mediation needs.  Call: 763-244-1002 to schedule a mediation session today.

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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Questionnaires for Clients and Potential Clients of Stacy Wright Family Law & Mediation, Chtd.

Divorce case clients & potential clients who have minor children should fill out this questionnaire:

Qsawlaw – Divorce with Kids

Paternity case clients & potential clients should fill out this questionnaire:

QsawlawKids – Paternity

Clients and potential clients who do NOT have minor children should fill out this questionnaire: QsawlawNoKids

Our questionnaire for clients and potential clients seeking unbundled representation: QsawlawUnbundled

ATTORNEY ADVERTISING MATERIAL. The content of this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is formed by use of this website. Do not submit confidential information via this site unless and until there is a signed retainer contract on file.

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