Solving Conflict Through Early Neutral Evaluation

groupConflicts over property division, finances and parenting time often take center stage in a divorce. When a marriage breaks down, it is often difficult for the parties to approach dividing their assets — and even more troubling to consider how best to divide their time with the kids. The financial and emotional toll of contentious disputes in divorce can often be avoided through alternative means of resolving conflict. An early neutral evaluation gives men and women who are seeking a divorce a resource to solve problems at the initial stages of the process — before either party can dig in their heels.

At Lutter Gilbert & Kvas, LLC, in Dakota County, our family law attorneys work with men and women (moms and dads) to expedite solving parenting time disputes, and prevent these problems from becoming nightmares.

What Is An Early Neutral Evaluation And Why Do You Need To Have One?

The early neutral evaluation process is a confidential alternative dispute resolution method designed to help expedite agreement between parents without going to court. The program was developed to help families navigate through the court system as cost-effectively and as quickly as possible. There are two types of evaluations. The first addresses financial issues related to separation including family support and the allocation of debts and assets. The second type of early neutral evaluation addresses social issues related to custody and parenting time. When both parties participate, the process can save money and time on court appearances. In addition, the FENE and SENE process allows parties to make decisions that best work for them, rather than leaving issues for the Court to decide.

In both FENE and SENE, the process is entirely confidential and governed by Rule 114. This means that what is discussed or presented during the process is not part of the Court record. The evaluator will not tell the judge what the parties say or share any of the documents presented, however these documents could become part of the court record at a later point.

Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE)

A Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is an early neutral evaluation of financial issues such as property division, debt payment, spousal support and child support.

The Court determines who is a good candidate for the Financial ENE process at the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), which is one of the first times parties will be in court together. The first FENE will occur shortly after the ICMC. When parties are able to reach an agreement, the evaluator will work with the attorneys and the Court to prepare documents to make the agreement binding and enforceable.

Sometimes more than one session is required to resolve all of the financial issues. When this happens, the evaluator can request more information from the parties before future sessions. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement after multiple sessions, the evaluator will inform the Court that the parties participated but were unable to come to an agreement. The parties will then have to go to Court to resolve the financial issues.

Barbara Lutter and Katie Trotzky are on the FENE roster in some counties. Barbara and Katie are each available for FENEs, by agreement of the parties, anywhere in the area.

Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE)

The Social Early Neutral Evaluation works to create temporary or final resolution to custody and parenting time disputes between parents who are separating. The Court has discretion to recommend parents have an SENE at any point in the legal process.

The SENE process may help parents resolve these issues so that a custody evaluation is not needed. The SENE process was developed to allow for a quicker, earlier evaluation of custody and parenting time issues. In the SENE process, the parents (and lawyers) meet with neutral evaluators who can gather information and make an assessment in one or two sessions. In some counties, there is a team of two evaluators, one man and one woman, for the SENE. In other counties, only one person acts as the evaluator.

The parents meet together with the evaluators with each parent presenting his or her view of the custody situation. The evaluators ask questions as needed to get a fuller picture. Then the evaluators present feedback about what they think would be best for the children.

After hearing those recommendations, the parents can choose to have the evaluators switch hats to become more like a mediator to help them come up with an agreement. Generally there is only one SENE session, lasting three or four hours. Sometimes the parents want the evaluators to gather or review other information and so a second session is scheduled.

SENE is a confidential process, governed by Rule 114. That means that the evaluator does not tell anyone, even the court, what was discussed. If parents reach an agreement, a settlement, in this process, that agreement is provided to the Court. If there is no agreement, however, the SENE evaluators only tell the Court that the parties participated in an SENE and that no agreement was reached.

Barbara and Katie are on the Court's SENE roster in some counties. Barbara and Katie are each available for SENEs, by agreement of the parties, anywhere in the area.

Turn To Our Experienced Early Neutral Evaluators For Solutions

We welcome inquiries from family law attorneys throughout Minnesota and unrepresented parties to learn how our lawyers can help expedite agreement to tough family law problems. To arrange a free consultation, call our office in the south metro at 651-452-6693 or send us an email.