During the Minnesota divorce process, emotions can run high and acrimony can often hinder efforts to resolve the case. In Minnesota, courts have long encouraged the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution processes to facilitate settlements. In 2004, the courts began pilot programs to try out a process called Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in family law cases. The ENE program has now been established in a number of counties in Minnesota, and focuses on child custody, parenting time and financial issues.
The ENE process begins at the mandatory Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). At the ICMC, the judge and the attorneys discuss options for resolving the case, including the voluntary ENE process.
If the parties choose to participate in ENE, they attend a session with their attorneys and one or two neutral evaluators. After each side presents its view of the case the evaluators meet privately to discuss it. The evaluators then present their evaluation of the case to the parties and their attorneys, identifying strong and weak points in each side’s case and giving their opinions on what a court is likely to do.
For custody and visitation issues, the parties take part in Social ENE with a male-female team of two evaluators. For financial issues, the parties attend a Financial ENE session with one evaluator.
ENE has been implemented on a county-by-county basis. In Dakota County, Social ENE is available, but not Financial ENE. In Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, both Social and Financial ENE are available.
Like any proceeding in a divorce case, it is critical to be prepared for the ICMC and the ENE session. An experienced Minnesota family law attorney can help a spouse or parent understand the process and work for a fair settlement.