Most counties in Minnesota offer something called Early Neutral Evaluation (also known as “ENE”). There is an ENE process for custody and parenting time issues, and an ENE process for financial issues.
Early Neutral Evaluation is similar to mediation, but there are major differences. At an ENE, each party spends a half hour or more talking about the issues from his or her perspective. If it is a custody and parenting time ENE, the parties talk about the children and the arrangements they believe will be in the children’s best interests. If its a financial ENE, the parties talk about their finances and how they believe the finances should be addressed.
Then the evaluators take a break, they confer privately, and return in about 15 to 20 minutes. The evaluators will have specific recommendations. The recommendations are confidential, meaning they cannot be repeated to the court. The purpose of the recommendations is to provide the parties with a view of what is likely to happen if the case went to trial. Often, equipped with that knowledge, the parties can then reach an agreement.
After providing an evaluation, the evaluators then switch to settlement mode to see whether they can help mediate a final agreement. Sometimes the process is reversed. Sometimes the evaluators try to reach a settlement first, and then provide their recommendations later. This depends on the approach of the particular evaluator.
The evaluators are on a list of court neutrals and are appointed by the court. In Hennepin County, the custody and parenting time evaluators work for court services and their offices are on the second floor of the Hennepin County Family Justice Center.
It is extremely important that your attorney prepare you carefully for an ENE. You need to know not only “what” to say, but “how” to say it so that you do not alienate the evaluators.
If you have questions about this, feel free to call attorney Daniel M. Fiskum, at Minnetonka Family Law. The number is (952) 270-7700. Daniel M. Fiskum has practiced divorce and family law for over 25 years. His office is conveniently located in the Carlson Towers at the intersection of I 494 and I 394.