A divorce case begins when a summons and a petition for Dissolution of Marriage is served on one’s spouse. The spouse then has 30 days to file an answer and counter-petition. The requirement to serve an answer may be indefinitely extended if the parties to a divorce choose an Early Neutral Evaluation.
Early Neutral Evaluation is an alternative means of settling divorce and child custody cases. It takes place outside of the traditional courtroom setting. Early Neutral Evaluation is voluntary and confidential, whereas court proceedings are public and mandatory.
Instead of having an assigned judge, the parties to an Early Neutral Evaluation select neutral evaluators that help them resolve their divorce issues. If the case involves children, the parties choose from a list of neutral evaluators to form a male-female team that ideally includes one attorney and one mental health professional for their Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE). In a SENE, the evaluators provide their opinion as to what a court may decide as to custody and parenting time, ad help the parties reach an agreement.
In a Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE), which covers property division and child support and/or spousal support/maintenance, the parties choose a single evaluator from a list of neutral evaluators. In a FENE, experienced family law attorneys or accountants act as neutral evaluators. They evaluate the finances of the parties and use the information to provide their opinion of the case and to encourage the parties to enter a compromise.
Unlike a more traditional process in court, there is no judge, and the parties are encouraged to speak freely, usually with both parties in the same room.
The evaluators ask each party questions and give them an opportunity to speak. The parties are required to listen when the other is talking, and no gestures or reactions are allowed.
After speaking with the parties, if there are two evaluators, the two of them then meet in private. Then, they present the parties with their opinions as to what may happen if the case went before the court. Based on these opinions, the parties have the opportunity to reach an agreement on all or some of their issues.
While the parties are engaged in Early Neutral Evaluation, the court holds periodic conference calls to obtain status updates. If the parties resolve all of their issues through an Early Neutral Evaluation, the evaluators report to the court that the parties reached an agreement, and their attorneys prepare any necessary legal paperwork for the court.
The court must decide any issues not resolved in an Early Neutral Evaluation. Should no agreements be reached, the court decides all the matters at trial.
Reasons to Use the Early Neutral Evaluation Process:
- A child-centered focus when children are involved;
- More satisfaction with final decisions;
- Less time spent in court;
- Less money spent on the divorce
- Obtaining an outside opinion of the issues in the case; and
- A drastic reduction in time spent completing the divorce.
When A Traditional Divorce Process is Necessary
In order for Early Neutral Evaluation to be a success, the parties both need a desire to settle. Without a good faith effort to succeed, Early Neutral Evaluation may be a waste of time and money. This is especially true when one spouse is vengeful, punitive, or combative.
If a party is unwilling to compromise or has a history of violent behavior, negotiation may be impossible. Parties may be unwilling or unable to communicate openly where there is a history of domestic violence or may feel intimidated to negotiate with their spouse. In dealing with any of these situations, the traditional divorce process, with its structured environment and access to help from the court, may be best.
This is not always the case, however, and an Early Neutral Evaluation process may be helpful even where there has been domestic violence, assuming there are accommodations so that the parties feel safe and comfortable negotiating.
When parties choose the traditional divorce process, the case is scheduled for pre‐trial, the parties may be required to attend parenting classes or participate in a custody evaluation if the case involves children, and the court may suggest mediation.
If the parties are unable to resolve all disputed issues, the court will schedule a pre-trial conference where the parties are provided an opportunity to negotiate, and remaining disputed issues are identified. If there are remaining disputed issues at the pre-trial, the court sets a trial date.
Parties generally continue attempting to settle following a pre-trial conference, through negotiations between attorneys. If no settlement is reached, attorneys prepare their clients for trial.
Contact Experienced Minnesota Divorce Attorneys
Whether to use Early Neutral Evaluation is a matter best discussed with an experienced family law attorney like those at Perusse Nixon PLLC. Divorce is a complicated matter that finalizes rights to property and determines custody and parenting time with your children. A family law attorney can ensure you receive a fair share of the property and that the best custody and parenting plan for your children is determined.
Contact Perusse Nixon PLLC today to schedule a consultation and learn about the process that is best for your situation.