If you've filed for divorce, or have filed a custody action in Minnesota, the court may ask you to participate in an Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) if you did not resolve all the contested issues in your case at your Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). What is Early Neutral Evaluation? Is it required? Is it worthwhile? Read on for answers to these and other common questions regarding Early Neutral Evaluation in Minnesota.
Early Neutral Evaluation is a chance for you and the other party in your case to discuss issues with a neutral evaluator or evaluators, someone who doesn't advocate for either of you. There are two types of ENE: social ENE (SENE), for issues like custody and parenting time, and financial ENE (FENE) for issues like spousal maintenance and property division. In SENE, there are typically two evaluators: a male and a female. In FENE, there is usually only one.
The evaluators are highly-trained and experienced professionals, often child specialists, family law attorneys or accountants, who have specific training for ENEs. You and the other party will have the opportunity to present your side of each issue. The evaluator(s) will consider the information presented and then give you an idea of what a custody evaluator might recommend or how a judge might rule on an issue at trial.
Early neutral evaluation is a voluntary process. You cannot be required to participate. It certainly has its advantages, but you must decide if the process is right for you.
Going to court can be expensive, so the earlier you can resolve a dispute, the less it will usually cost you for financially and emotionally. Early Neutral Evaluation gives you an idea of what a custody evaluator or judge might do in your case, which may encourage early settlement. It also gives you greater control over the outcome. In addition to saving money by reaching an early resolution through ENE, it is often quicker to go through this process than to get issues resolved at trial.
Early neutral evaluation can be very helpful, but it's not for everyone. If there's a power imbalance in your relationship with the other party, ENE may not be right for you. Oftentimes, this is the case if there has been domestic abuse in your relationship..
There is a cost for ENE, but it varies from county to county and even case to case. In some situations, a sliding fee scale may apply based on your income, or, if you qualified for a fee waiver when waiving your case, some Minnesota counties may waive the fee. Even though there is usually a cost for ENE, though, it is usually significantly less than the cost of taking an issue to trial.
The evaluators will only have the information with which they are presented, so it's in your best interest to prepare thoroughly. You may think you know everything you want to say, but it is often best to write down your talking points anyway; it's easy to forget something in the stress of the moment. In a social ENE, parties often bring pictures of their children and sometimes report cards, medical records and other documents. In a financial ENE, parties typically provide tax returns, bank statements, evidence of income (like pay stubs), statements for investment or retirement accounts and other documents. If you have a lawyer, they should be discussing preparation with you. At Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., we spend time preparing our clients for ENE so they know what to expect.
If you reach an agreement, the court will receive a report from the evaluator(s) detailing its terms. The court will not know what you said to the evaluators, what proposals were made, the evaluators recommendations, etc., only the substance of your agreement. If you do not reach an agreement, the Court will only know that no agreement was reached. Your statements to the evaluators, proposals, recommendations, etc., will remain confidential.
To learn more about Early Neutral Evaluation, we invite you to contact Bloch and Whitehouse, P.A. at (952) 224-9977 to schedule a free initial consultation. We look forward to helping you resolve the issues in your divorce or other family law matter.