As I mentioned in the previous blog post, most courts in Minnesota do not use an Early Neutral Evaluation program. In those counties, the procedure that takes place during the divorce is somewhat different.
Most Minnesota divorce courts convene a pre-trial hearing to talk about the scope and parameters of the case. Often this is an in-court appearance with the attorneys and the parties, but it can also be accomplished by mail. (The parties each send in an “Informational Statement” and on the basis of that alone the court will enter a pre-trial order.)
Some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is required. Usually this takes the form of mediation. So, it is almost always the case that the court will order the parties to participate in mediation. In mediation, the mediator tries to settle the case. However, if the case is not settled, unlike an Early Neutral Evaluation, the mediator will not give his or her “evaluation” of the prospects of either party, should the case go to trial.
One thing that many people do not understand is that mediation adds another layer of cost to the proceeding. A mediation session takes, at a minimum, about three hours. However, it can take longer if progress is being made. Sometimes mediation can be spread out over several days. So, the parties have the cost of the attorneys plust the cost of the mediator to pay. Usually, mediators charge anywhere from $250 per hour to $400 per hour, depending upon the mediator.
If mediation works, its a good thing. It can save the parties a lot of money that they would otherwise spend going to trial. If mediation does not work, it can be perceived by the parties as a waste of money. In my experience, usually people want to settle the divorce and avoid the emotional and financial cost of a trial. In those cases, mediation is likely to work. Sometimes, however, one party does not really want to settle, and he or she wants to “punish” the other party by dragging the divorce proceeding out and making it cost more. In those cases, mediation does not work.
Mediation is not a good idea if there has been domestic abuse between the parties. And, while mediation is almost always required by the court, cases involving domestic abuse present an exception. A court will usually not order mediation if domestic abuse has occurred.